Q&A Style Books from the 19th Century
One style of didactic literature for children during the 19th century was one that involved using questions and answers as a method of teaching. Typically, these books state different questions a child might have, and provide either brief or detailed answer to those questions, depending on the subject. Specifically for geography, a section often begins with very basic questions on the topic and proceeds to get into the more specific questions as the section goes on.
One book, Easy Lessons on Geography by James Hutchinson (1852) uses an interesting take on this style. The introductory chapter begins with the question of what exactly geography is, and proceeds to answer the question of how we can know that the Earth is in fact round, and not flat. Throughout the whole section, the questions and answers flow in a conversational manner, similar to how a child might ask follow-up questions about everything that they are taught. This book aims to cover most subjects in geography, from the very basic terms such as continent or peninsula to the general facts about different countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. While it does not go into much depth for these different places, it tries to cover as many basic facts about as many places as possible. In addition, it is interesting how this book takes the stance that Europe is the “most powerful” area on the planet.
Another book, First Lessons in Geography by James Monteith, first published in 1874, and then republished a year later in 1875, implements questions and answers within text sections. Each section begins with a brief textual description, which is then followed by questions and answers on the topic. This book focuses more on North America but covers every part of the world. One interesting aspect of the questions and answers in this book is that some questions are left to the reader to answer by observing the maps included on the book’s pages. Together with the textual content, these maps effectively teach the basics of geography to children.
First Lessons in Geography for Young Children by Mitchell Augustus, published in 1871 is of a similar style as the book of a similar name by James Monteith. It includes many illustrations which are surrounded by questions one might ask about these illustrations and maps.
Beyond their titles which all seem to follow the same pattern, these books have a lot in common. All are targeted towards the most basic geography student, starting with the very basic definitions of geography such as the word itself, or even defining what a map is. The style that they share is also very interesting. We can speculate how children during the 19th century received this style of teaching, but the general idea is that a book that “interacts” with the reader can keep that readers’ attention for longer than one that is simply stating facts in long paragraphs. Short questions and answers, which include follow-up questions and answers as well are an effective way to quickly portray facts while maintaining the reader’s attention.