This is a guest post by Jackie Coleburn, Rare Book Cataloger at the Library of Congress.
Did Philip Lee Phillips study Peter Parley geography books when he was a child? This is a detail of his personal history we may never know. Philip Lee Phillips (1857–1924) was the first Superintendent of Maps when the Hall of Maps and Charts was established in 1897, when the Library of Congress moved into its own building, now the Thomas Jefferson Building.
We can safely assume that Mr. Phillips knew of Peter Parley, a pseudonym of children’s writer Samuel G. Goodrich (1793–1860). Goodrich’s well-illustrated books on geography, as well as history, biography, and the sciences, were wildly popular in the 19th century, second only to the McGuffey Readers. His biographer, Daniel Roselle, estimates that 12 million of his books were sold.
The Philip Lee Phillips Society, named in his honor, furthers the development of the collections of the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress. On May 19, the Society gathered with the Washington Map Society, guests, and Library of Congress staff in the Jefferson Building for a presentation and book display of Peter Parley’s geography books for children.
Jackie Coleburn, Library of Congress rare book cataloger, and Anthony Mullan, Library of Congress retired cartographic specialist, gave an illustrated presentation, “A Globe on a new plan: Peter Parley’s teaching of geography to children in the 19th century.” In addition to the lecture, 25 treasures from the vaults in the Geography and Map and the Rare Book and Special Collections Divisions were on display.
The attendees were fascinated to see the two maps of Georgia, shown above, in the display. The maps are from two editions of Atlas designed to Illustrate the Malte-Brun School of Geography by Goodrich, published three years apart. A careful look at the northwest corner of Georgia shows a momentous change. “Cherokee Nation,” seen in the 1836 edition is nowhere to be found in the 1839 edition. That portion of Georgia is replaced by counties and county seats in the later map. This change from one edition of the atlas to the other reflects what was happening at that moment in history, the forcible removal of the Cherokees to the west of the Mississippi River, and white migration into the region. Goodrich does not discuss this controversy in the textbooks, but it is revealed in the maps.
Goodrich wrote from the 1820s until his death in 1860. He was famous for keeping his young readers engaged and entertained while teaching them geography. In The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry and his Young Friends over Various Countries in Europe, 1855, he takes his readers on an imaginary hot-air balloon trip over Europe. They glide above great cities and natural wonders while their teacher, Robert Merry (another Goodrich pseudonym), describes the places and peoples below. Goodrich wrote in his preface:
“The purpose of this volume, is to entertain and instruct the reader by carrying him, in imagination, with a party of adventurers in a balloon, over the most interesting portions of Europe. The design of the writer is … to make every reader a party to the voyage. [Balloon travel] is an easy mode of traveling … and the opportunity [it] affords of rapidly passing from country to country, looking down upon each, and studying it like a map .…”
Goodrich took the accepted method of geography instruction for children and turned it on its head. He rejected the common approach of teaching children first about the universe, then planets, then the earth, and finally getting closer to home. Instead, Goodrich put the student firmly at the center of his world and started teaching about maps and direction with his immediate surroundings. In the preface to A Primer of Geography, 1850, he explains “The pupil is made to begin with the spot he lives; he is called upon to describe first the places and objects which have been familiar to him since infancy. He is then led to the adjacent towns, and in the next place, is made acquainted with his native state …” Goodrich credits Conrad Malte-Brun, the Danish-French geographer, for this method of instruction called the inductive method.
Samuel Goodrich had a remarkable confidence in the impact a knowledge of geography could have on a child’s life. He encouraged an understanding of the geography of the Holy Land to convince students of the veracity of the Bible. In the “Preface to parents” in his Peter Parley’s Geography of the Bible, 1837, he writes “If we carry the imagination of a child to Asia … if we show him hills, mountains, rivers, valleys where Christ and his disciples met … we take one of the surest means of establishing an early confidence in the truth of the scriptures.”
The character of Peter Parley, his fictional narrator, was a key to Goodrich’s success. His geography lessons were conversations with children, not lectures. He was a friendly, gray-haired old man with a gouty foot, who loved to tell stories to children. His character, often seen leaning on a cane in a wide-brimmed hat, was an early example of successful branding in children’s literature. He and Goodrich sold millions of books, taught children of the 19th century about the world around them, and added a sense of wonder and delight to the lessons.