Biology textbooks are a great primary document set for anyone interested in American history and cultural studies (Isis agrees). Ambitious authors and an anxious public sculpted and reshaped the high school biology curriculum throughout the twentieth century in an effort to guide and control that most unruly of bodies, the pubescent tenth grader. Lessons on taxonomy turned into metaphors of race and progress. Lessons on health turned into lectures on the dangers of sex with people not of one’s class.
Because they were published and revised more or less annually, biology textbooks are like tree rings, a nearly complete year-to-year record of the culture in which they grew.
About the Author
Ronald Ladouceur is and independent scholar interested in the intersection of history, science and visual rhetoric. Ladouceur holds an M.A. in Liberal Studies from SUNY Empire State College, and is an adjunct professor at the University at Albany. His published work includes “Ella Thea Smith and the Lost History of American High School Biology Textbooks,” Journal of the History of Biology 41: 435 (2007), “Biology’s Bomb: Graphing ‘Explosive’ Population Growth in Cold War Textbooks,” Climate & Capitalism (2011), and “All with Theories to Sell: Carleton S. Coon, Bentley Glass, Marston Bates, and the Struggle by Life Scientists in the United States to Construct a Social Mission After World War II,” available via ProQuest (2008).
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