Re-making Barbauld's Primers: A Case Study in the Americanization of British Literary Pedagogy

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1996


Using scenes based on experiences with her adopted son Charles, Anna Aikin Barbauld created Lessons for Children (1778), a primer whose conversations between a mother and her son advocated a meaningful social role for middle-class women—domestic pedagogue for young children, especially boys. Though initially published in England and written (according to the author's own self-effacing introduction) with Charles as the chief audience, the Lessons became very much a nineteenth-century American text. Barbauld's cultural work as a British juvenile author has received a good deal of attention recently (see, for example, Summerfield; Robbins, "Lessons"; Myers, "Mice"). But her notable influence across the Atlantic also merits analysis, since the history of the "Americanization" of her work can help us understand how cultural groups appropriate and reshape texts to serve new contexts. Through the marketing of new images, verbal revisions, and the material appearance of the books themselves, producers and readers of the American editions reshaped the Lessons to promote, reflect, and help define a potentially powerful identity for women in the postcolonial Republic.