Indiana State University Newsroom

Special collections at Cunningham library help alumnus with book

July 14, 2010

Had he not discovered the special collections department at Indiana State University's Cunningham Memorial Library, Kyle Ward might still be waist-deep in research.

Ward, an ISU Ph.D. graduate who is director of social studies education at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, has used the Indiana State University collections to research two books. His latest, "Not Written in Stone: Learning and Unlearning American History through 200 Years of Textbooks," was released in May. The book is an abridged and annotated version of "History in the Making: An Absorbing Look at How American History Has Changed in the Telling over the Last 200 Years," which Ward edited in 2006.

Ward will speak about "Not Written in Stone" and sign copies at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (July 21) in the Special Events area of the library.

Ward earned his doctorate in history education from ISU in 2007, but it was a colleague who suggested he return to his alma mater for researching his latest books.

While researching "History in the Making," Ward worked as an associate professor of history and political science at Vincennes University. A colleague there recommended he consult special collections for the material he needed.

Ward primarily used the Floyd Family and Walker collections, which contain public school textbooks and related material dating back to the 19th Century.

"It was literally a gold mine for me to find dozens and dozens of old textbooks," Ward said.

Without them, he said his research would have taken much longer and relied on interlibrary loans.

"It's probably the best collection of textbooks in the U.S.," Ward said.

Both of Ward's books use a chronology of textbook excerpts to show how the subject matter students learn has changed through the decades, reflecting a shift in U.S. cultural and educational values. He wrote "Not Written in Stone" for classroom use and included analysis and questions for discussion. It took him four years to complete and publish the book.

As a former high school teacher, Ward said he was tired of students being bored with their textbooks.

"Students typically see their history textbooks as being a necessary evil, something they have to have for their history class as well as the book that is weighing down their backpacks," he said. "Students rarely read their history textbooks unless assigned specifically by their teacher.

"My argument is that teachers should get students to understand their history textbook is actually a social/political text used to make them citizens."The Floyd and Walker collections are among 11 major collections housed on the third floor of Indiana State's library. In 1979, William and Cletis Floyd, former educators from West Lafayette, donated 121 Indiana public school textbooks to the university. The collection has since grown to nearly 2,000 titles and includes publisher catalogs, teachers' editions and supplements used between 1840 and 1940.

In 1980, Dr. Benjamin Walker, then an ISU faculty member, donated 300 early American textbooks mostly used in New England during the 19th Century. Currently, there are 1,050 titles in the collection.

"Special collections don't just mean rare collections," said David Vancil, collections chair and curator. "It means collections of special interest."

Other major collections include the Cordell Collection of Dictionaries, the world's largest collection of pre-20th Century dictionaries meant to show the development of the English language and lexicon. The Debs Collection contains books, letters and other material written by Eugene V. Debs, the Terre Haute-born political figure who helped found the International Labor Union and Industrial Workers of the World. Materials pertaining to the study of the human memory are contained in the Herrmann Collection.

More than 6,000 titles are included in the rare books collection, which mainly focuses on 18th Century travel, literature and civilization.

The department has the capability of digitizing some material. Vancil said there are electronic versions of three major music collections through 1922. Also digitized are pamphlets written by Debs in or before 1922.

Many special collections departments have a constant problem of people unaware of its resources, Vancil said. Much of the material he oversees could be very useful to professors or instructors.

"There are jewels here that can be used in classes," he said.

Ward has written or edited two other books: "In the Shadow of Glory," which chronicles the story of the 13th Minnesota Regiment during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars, and "History Lessons," an examination of what students from around the world learn about United States history.

Contact: David Vancil, chairperson, Special Collections, Cunningham Memorial Library, 812-237-2611 or

Writer: Nick Hedrick, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or