Learning with Prints

Source: Library of Congress
By: Barbara Orbach Natanson

School may be out for the summer, but around the Library of Congress there’s always something new to learn. This week I joined teachers attending one of the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute sessions to display examples of primary sources that might be suited to classroom exercises. It set me to reflecting on examples in our collections of pictures intended for classrooms past.

Among the items that were clearly designed for classroom use are a series of prints found in our historical print collections. Issued by Louis Prang & Co., a prolific publisher of chromolithographs, “Prang’s Aids for Object Teaching” included this picture of a kitchen as a work site.

Prang’s aids for object teaching–The kitchen. Lithograph by L. Prang & Co., copyrighted 1874.

The accompanying teacher’s manual for using the prints in the classroom outlines a basic exercise for the youngest students: name the objects in the print. How many can you name? Some utensils in the list would be familiar from today’s kitchens, others not so much: “shovel, tongs, poker, grate, stove, griddle, oven, range, boiler, pot, tea-kettle, teapot, saucepan, spider, gridiron, ladle, pail, coal-scuttle, dipper, bucket, pan, bowl, broiler, coffee-mill, cup, mug, plate, broom, bellows…”

The teacher’s manual offers a graduated series of exercises where children at higher levels would explain the what, why, and how of the tools and processes depicted in the prints. Those relating to the tinsmith and the carpenter offer still more wonders for the modern viewer seeking to understand work places and educational approaches of the past.

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