Historical Textbooks

About the Historical Textbook Collection

Of these, the IBE holds a unique selection of hundreds of books in twenty-four different languages ranging from Bemba to Sorbian, from Calabrese to Twi. At the moment, 4,782 of the textbooks have been digitized and are available online. These include many of the collection’s rare materials, such as antiquarian atlases and books from the personal libraries of Edouard Claparède and Pedro Rosselló.
Search the IBE Historical Textbook Collection

For researchers of education, textbooks can be a vital primary source. They provide information about the evolution of school curricula over time, about changing ideas, practices, and methods in teaching and assessment. History and geography textbooks especially contain representations of everyday life and dominant attitudes of the past and in different regions of the earth. These representations are the reflection of a changing historical ideological and social context. As these textbooks are often commissioned or approved by state authorities, they can also be powerful tools of social engineering and may provide cues to the process of nation-building. They give a projection of official visions of how a society should look like, its degree of equality, and its treatment of those who othered and excluded. Consequently, textbooks can provide information about class and socio-economic inequality, just as about the treatment of women, migrants, or the disabled. Textbooks may not only be a means to justify practices that create inequality, for example in the context of dictatorship or colonialism, but also as an instrument for liberation from such practices, in the context of decolonization. In times of conflict, textbooks may exacerbate tension through a certain depiction of “the enemy”. On the other hand, they have the potential to improve social cohesion and international understanding. The newly digitized IBE Textbook Collection may thus help researchers to answer a great number of different historical questions and to inform contemporary problems in textbook research.




Textbooks, teacher manuals, atlases, and other learning materials on different subjects, published between 1700 and 1960.



A myriad of countries represented in the textbook collection. Some of them no longer exist today, changed their names, have been absorbed by another political regime, or gained independence.



Rich linguistic diversity of materials within the IBE textbook collection, some of them considered by UNESCO to be endangered and at high risk of disappearing.



A wide range of subject textbooks and teaching guides for K-12, vocational training, and adult education and literacy. They are the closest proxy to what education is like at a given point in time.