Allison Speicher, assistant professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, has published a new book, “Schooling Readers.”
Speicher focuses on what she calls the, “Common School Narrative” fictional stories about one-room schools written during the 19th century. “This is a really important time in the history of schooling; public schools were basically invented during this period,” said Speicher. “Other scholars have studied literature related to other reform movements during this time period but there hasn’t been much activity around literature related to school reform, so that’s the gap this book fills.”
Speicher found 130 stories to analyze and include in her book. Some stories came from magazines and others from novels. “As I look at these stories I think about how they respond to the educational changes occurring in the 19th century,” said Speicher. “How they school readers, (that’s where the title comes from), on issues related to education as mass education is coming into being.” Throughout Speicher’s book she describes the groundwork for public school systems that was laid during this time period. The book contains four main themes that Speicher analyzes throughout: Spelling bees and school exhibitions; teachers adopting their students; school violence; and student teacher romance. “I found it very interesting that even though the United States is divided up sectionally during this time period, these stories are very similar across the country and on both sides of the Civil War,” said Speicher.
Speicher began this project as her Ph.D. dissertation at Indiana University. “I started with a hunch,” she said. “No one knew these stories were out there and I just felt like they had to be, so I started looking for them in digital databases, particularly the American periodical series. I was able to find these 130 stories in a matter of weeks.” Speicher explained how her process is backwards from what is expected of a writer she doesn’t read or write every day. “I am the kind of person who likes to read all the materials first and then do the writing,” she said. “I do all the research up front, take lots of notes while doing my reading and then create a comprehensive outline. Finally, I write chapter by chapter, and then edit and revise.”
A concern Speicher faced while finishing her book was the cover art. “We had an illustration that just didn’t feel right to me and didn’t capture the time period,” she said. “The illustration was of a woman outside of a Montana schoolhouse smiling, but in this time period individuals never smiled while having their photos taken because the process took so long. The photos of the 19th century were supposed to be somber and this one just didn’t do it for me.” Speicher found the final cover art illustration in the Eastern library from the 1874 issue of Scriveners Magazine. “Now that I’m finished I’m happy with the final product,” she said. “It’s a literary history and analysis of these stories, a close reading that brings them all together making sense of the patterns more than anything else.”
The book took about four years to complete and is available on the publisher’s website, http://www.uapress.ua.edu, as well as Amazon.com. Individuals who are also interested in reading the 130 stories can find links on Speicher’s website; allisonspeicher.com.
About Eastern Connecticut State University
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 158 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 20 other states and 63 other countries. A residential campus offering 38 majors and 55 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 27th top public university in the North Region, by U.S. News and World Report in its 2016 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council six years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.
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