Historic textbooks provide windows into humanity by demonstrating how knowledge passes from one generation to the next. While the main text of an instructional book reveals societal beliefs and values about learning, the handwritten marginal notes and doodles scribbled throughout the book are just as important because they show how students communicate with one another over time and react to (or even dismiss) the knowledge imparted on them. The Bentley Rare Book Museum’s exhibition The Books That Taught Us uses a collection of rare and historic textbooks printed in the Western world between the eighteenth century and the twentieth century to explore the layered history of instructional texts in the English-speaking world. Using a combination of panels, textual artifacts, and interactive stations, The Books That Taught Us analyzes the full life of textbooks – from production to attrition – and invites critical conversations about the long-lasting relationship between textbooks and the people who use them. The exhibition is on view at the Bentley Rare Book Museum from October 2023 until October 2024.

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