New England Primer

The New England Primer: Perspectives from the Collection

Laura E. Wasowicz, Kyle Roberts, and Babette Gehnrich

Wednesday, August 31, 2022, at 4pm ET

Approx. 60 minutes

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This virtual program is free, but registration is required. You will be sent an email with a link and instructions on how to join the program upon registration. Closed captioning is available as an option via Zoom’s live transcription.

In 1995, The American Antiquarian Society acquired one of the two earliest known copies of the New England Primer. Considered a staple text of Puritan childhood that taught letters, reading, and religion, the first edition of the New England Primer was most likely printed between 1683 and 1690, either in London or Boston. Early printings of the text, such as the AAS copy that was printed in 1727, are extremely scarce because of heavy use by generations of children and families. When the copy came to AAS, it too was in an extremely battered state and required extensive conservation.

During this virtual program, AAS curator of children’s literature Laura Wasowicz and historian Kyle Roberts will unpack the complex cultural history of the New England Primer and how AAS came to acquire a copy. Babette Gehnrich, AAS chief conservator, will discuss the significant efforts taken to conserve the fragile early eighteenth-century primer and will provide a live demonstration of some conservation techniques.

Headshot of Laura WasowiczLaura E. Wasowicz is the curator of children’s literature at AAS. She assists researchers in accessing relevant titles from the Children’s Literature collection and acquires and catalogs additional titles for the collection. She also promotes the collection through lectures, articles, and the Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Book Trade Directory database. Before coming to AAS in 1987, Laura worked at the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute. She has a BA in history from Rockford College, an MA in library science from the University of Chicago, and an MA in History from Clark University.

Headshot of Kyle RobertsKyle Roberts is the Associate Director of Library & Museum Programming of the American Philosophical Society Library & Museum. Prior to coming to the APS Library & Museum, Roberts was an Associate Professor of Public History and New Media and Director of the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago. A scholar of early America, a public historian, and digital humanist, Roberts is Member of the AAS and he won the 2013 Schiller Prize for Bibliographical Work on Pre-20th-Century Children’s Books from the Bibliographical Society of America for his essay, “Rethinking The New-England Primer,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 104:4 (December 2010).

Headshot of Babette GehnrichBabette Gehnrich is the chief conservator at AAS. She is responsible for the preservation of the Society’s collections, which consist of close to 4.5 million objects. She received her training in book and paper conservation and hand bookbinding in Berlin, Germany, and the Centro del bel Libro in Switzerland. Prior to starting her position at AAS in 1989, she was the Assistant Conservator at Yale University Library.

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