A Story of Children’s Literature Researchers

I’ve read an amazing story about children’s literature researchers. Not me, sadly.

The reason why I got to read this story is that one of the Glasgow lecturers here is in the story – Evelyn Arizpe, director of MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies at University of Glasgow. She gave a guest lecture yesterday which I attended, and we were shown the following, in addition to a lecture fused with zeal.

These are historical items! An 18C chapbook and a doll with letters and words on its body – probably one that would have been sold by John Newbery back then?

It’s exciting to be able to touch these, but what is more exciting is a story in which she was a part. She told us a little bit in class, but for the full story, please do go and have a read of the Prologue of a book entitled Reading Lessons from the Eighteenth Century by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles. (There’s one in CUHK University Library – though on loan at this moment. That might be the only copy in Hong Kong!)

That’s a fascinating story of some children’s literature researchers inspiring one another, joining at different stages of the project, in the search of the history of a mother writing for her children in the 18th century, Jane Johnson.

Let me summarise a bit for people who don’t get to read it. Styles, one of the authors of the book, was first inspired by an American researcher Shirley Brice Heath, who brought to her knowledge a precious collection in Lilly Library at Indiana University – that of Jane Johnson’s. Fascinated by Johnson’s works, Styles was determined to pursue further in collaboration with her colleague Victor Watson.

The two of them, together with the visiting scholar, immediately went on a trip to London to study the wills of the Johnson family, and then to Witham-on-the-Hill, where Johnson lived. It was a small village and the people there were somewhat surprised by the visiting of the scholars. With the kind help of the people there, they got to see what Johnson’s house would look like, and also read a book related to Johnson’s daughter.

This is just the first part of the story, but I fear that any longer description will lose your interest. The scholars continued with the project, with a lot of coincidences and help of interested people (including Evelyn Arizpe, of course), a lot of trips and a lot of research on online archives, they got to dig up a lot of old documents (!!!) and unravel the obscure history of the eighteenth-century reading household.

The burning passion scribed into the book can hardly be missed. The prologue was clearly written with great enthusiasm and the excitement they felt must have been hundred times greater than what pops up on paper. (Read it if you have the chance!)

How I wish I could have the opportunity to do research like they did!

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