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Elizabeth Massa Hoiem
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL 61801-3620)

Research Programs

[Grant products]

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
8/1/2018 – 7/31/2019

Mechanical Literacy in British Culture, 1762-1860

Research and writing of a book on the history of experiential learning in England during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Education of Things: Mechanical Literacy in British Culture, 1762-1860 examines how writers represent education as an embodied experience, in which children learn directly from the physical world through “object learning” or “the education of things.” I propose the term “mechanical literacy”—a fusion of reading and writing with manual tinkering and scientific observation—to describe the multiple literacies of the industrial era. Mechanical literacy prefigures the digital literacies of today by promising social mobility while reinscribing social hierarchies. I examine children’s literature, autobiographies, science textbooks, automata displays, and education treatises, to reveal the hidden class politics of learning with things, arguing that objects are far from ideologically neutral alternatives to texts.