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The Book as Knowledge: Communications

Watch the video then read the materials for this section.

Human knowledge can be organized into branches of related disciplines and sub-disciplines. From dictionaries and almanacs to cookbooks and self-help books, this information can be communicated in many ways.

This page explores knowledge; forms: reference and specialty books; and essays and speeches.


Data are facts and statistics, while information is data that has been gathered and organized for use. Knowledge is the study and application of information.

Human knowledge has traditionally be organized into branches related to particular disciplines and sub-disciplines. These include:

Written in 1852, Knowledge Its Own End by John Henry Newman (1886) states that all branches of knowledge are interconnected. He stresses that a literature education is important because "a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attribute are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom" (1886, 101). He stresses that "knowledge is capable of being its own end... (knowledge) is its own reward" (1886, 103).

Knowledge and Books

Books can contain a wide range of information.

The term form is used to describe how this data is arranged or how the work is written. For instance, dictionaries, directories, almanacs, and encyclopedia each have a particular way of arranging information. They may cross academic disciplines.

Literary works are divided into genre based on their form (novel, short story, poetry, etc.) and their theme (adventure, fantasy, mystery, western, etc.). When told as a story or account of events, it's known as a narrative. Examples of literary types include novel, short story, and poetry.

Nonfiction is used to describe people, places, things, or events that actually happened as opposed to being imagined by the author. Nonfiction novels provide a narrative of an actual event(s) closely following the facts.

Scholarly works are written about a specialized subject such as law, medicine, or art. They generally have a narrow market and are often published by a university or specialty press. They are generally well-researched and contain organizational tools such as an index and reference list.

A seminal work is a book containing original ideas that are considered influential to multiple generations. When an author has created a work of major importance in their career, it's considered their magnum opus. Works that involve a public declaration about the author's beliefs or intentions are called manifestos.

Understanding Knowledge through Primary Sources

Researchers think about how knowledge is preserved and transmitted through books.

Although the book seems like the natural artifact for a book historian to examine, it's also important to view the book as part of the communication circuit. Why did authors choose to write about particular topics? Insights can be gained through letters and journals. How did a particular type of book gain popularity? Reading newspapers and advertisements help understand that rise of a genre.

Forms: Reference and Specialty Books

Some books don't easily fit into fiction or the traditional disciplines. They are best known by their form rather than their contents which may bridge many academic disciplines.

A reference book is intended to be consulted rather than read cover to cover. They often organize materials into sections by topic or alphabetically. Examples include almanacs, dictionaries, directories, encyclopedia, handbooks, manuals, research guides, and yearbooks. In some cases, reference works are created in multivolume sets.

Reference books are very popular. For instance, The Guinness Book of World Records published each year since 1955 has sold over 115 million copies. This annually published reference book contains lists of world records, human achievements, and extremes of the natural world.


bannakerAn almanac is an annual publication of facts and statistics. Weather forecasts, tide tables, astronomical data, and farmer's planting dates are often included along with other information.

The first printed almanac was published by Gutenberg in 1457. They continued to be produced through today in many countries.

Almanacs became particularly popular in 18th century Europe.

The almanac played an important role in the American colonies. The first published American almanac was published by William Pierce in 1639 and titled the An Almanac for New England for the year 1639.

James Franklin published the Rhode-Island Almanack in 1728. His brother Benjamin Franklin published his Poor Richard's Almanack from 1733-1758.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a free African American who published a series of successful almanacs from 1792-1797. Banneker created a number of editions in a six-year series focusing on six cities. The city name was incorporated into the title such as Benjamin Banneker's Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris for the Year of our Lord...

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) was known for her beautiful children's illustrations. She produced almanacs between 1883 and 1897. Sold at a price of one shilling, they were produced by George Routledge & Sons.

The images on the left and center are from Almanack for 1884 by Kate Greenaway and the image on the right is from Kate Greenaway's Almanack for 1893.


The Farmer's Almanac and The Old Farmer's Almanac continue to be produced to day.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts sold each year (1868-1876, 1886-present) has sold over 80 million copies. The first edition was published by The New York World newspaper and is available online. It continues to be the best selling reference work.

try itTry It!
Compare the contents of almanacs through history. How are they alike and different? Create a chart comparing a series of almanacs. Search for almanac and almanack at


An armorial is a book containing a collection of illustrations representing coat of arms or other heraldry. Generally, the illustrations are accompanied by an explanation including the name of the person or family bearing the arms.

Books of heraldry were popular in the 18th century. Johann Christoph Weigel (1654-1725) was a German engraver and publisher. His widow posthumously published a book of heraldry in 1734 titled Das Wappenbuch.

The image on the left is the title page to Das Wappenbuch. The image on the right is a coat of arms of the king of Prussia from this book.


Interest in armorial books was renewed during the late 19th and early 20th century. Armorial Families: A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat-Armour: Volume 1 (1905) and Volume 2 (1929) is an example.


A dictionary is a reference work listing words in alphabetical order. Often providing pronunciation in addition to definitions and usage. Some dictionaries have more detailed information such as synonyms, antonyms, and etymology. The entries in a dictionary are shorter than an encyclopedia. An unabridged dictionary attempts to include all words of the language. A pocket dictionary includes 30,000-50,000 words in a compact format.

The American Spelling Book (Webster's Dictionary) by Noah Webster (1783) has sold over 100 million copies. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary by Merriam-Webster (1898) has sold over 55 million copies.

A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was published in 1755. This was the most popular English language dictionary of its day.

oxfordThe Oxford English Dictionary published by Oxford University Press is considered the most complete collection of English language words and definitions. Work began on the dictionary in 1857, but it wasn't published until 1884. It wasn't until 1933 that the 12 volumes were printed and permanently named The Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Supplements were added until the second edition was issued in 1989. The third edition is more than half done.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (COD) by H.W. Fowler is probably the best known small dictionary. First published in 1911, others have taken over as editor through different editions. In 2011 it published the 12th edition.

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary by A.S. Hornby was sold 30 million copies since it was introduced in 1948.

The images below are from the 1912 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary.


Roget's Thesaurus by Peter Mark Roget has sold 40 million copies since it was first introduced in 1852.

A foreign language dictionary contains a alphabetical listing of words in one language providing a translation in a second language.

Technical dictionary include entries on topics related to arts and sciences.

John Harris (c1666-1719) published Lexicon Techincum in 1704 with later editions through 1744. This cross between a technical dictionary and encyclopedia is one of the earliest examples of this type of work written in English. Focusing on mathematics, science, and art, it doesn't include theology, biography, or poetry.



A cookbook is a type of reference book containing a collection of recipes and instructions for preparing food. Often organized into categories then alphabetically by recipe name, these books generally contain illustrations, ingredients, measurements, step-by-step instructions, techniques, and advice. These books are often focused on a specific cuisine or category of food.

Cookbooks were popular long before the invention of the printing press. However the cooking reference we know today was introduced in the early modern period. Often written for housewives and domestic help, they often focused on national cuisines.

Unfortunately, the history of the cookbook is filled with plagiarism. Most of the early cookbooks copied recipes from other sources. Today, plagiarism continues to be a problem in this area.

During the 15th and 16th centuries cookbooks focused on preparation of ingredients and often relied on lots of spice and vinegar.

Bartolomeo Platina (1421-1481) wrote De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine or On Honourable Pleasure and Health in 1465. It later became the first printed cookbook including Roman ideas about fine dining and included 250 recipes.

In the 17th century, national cuisine emerged as a major theme in cookbooks. Most cookbooks were written for the wealthy.

In 1669, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened was published based on the writings of Kenelm Digby (1603-1665). While it doesn't include information about food preparation, it does discuss cooking and ingredients. His book included many ingredients including vegetables, meats, herbs, spices, and other items.

Beginning in the 18th century, cookbooks were increasingly aimed at the middle class homemaker with an emphasis on economy.

The first American cookbook was published in 1727 in London and in 1742 in Virginia. The Compleat Housewife or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion written by Eliza Smith included home remedies and other information in addition to recipes.  

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) wrote The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. Published in 1747, it continued to be reprinted until 1843. Like other books of the time, many of her recipes were copied from other sources.

The image below is the frontispeace and title page to The Art of Cookery.


The modern cookbook emerged in the 19th century. These books included a list of ingredients with measures, along with clear, step-by-step instructions.

During the 19th century, members of the reform movement were concerned about the standard of cooking among the poor. Alexis Soyer (1809-1958) introduced A Shilling Cookery for the People as a low cost cookbook.

Georges Augustes Escoffier (1846-1935) wrote Le Guide Culinaire in 1903. Translated into English in 1907, A Guide to Modern Cookery was designed for professional chefs to educate a new generation of cooks. It is still used in culinary schools.

betterIn the 20th century, cookbooks continued to evolve.

The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book is often called the "red plaid book" and has sold over 39 million copies since it was originally published in 1930. In 2010, the 15th edition was published (shown on right). Meredith Corporation also publishes the New Junior Cookbook for children.

In some cases, food manufacturing companies became involved in publishing recipe books. In 1922 Proctor & Gamble Company the producer of Crisco shortening, published A Calendar of Dinners by Marion Harris Neil. The book begins with the history of Crisco, then includes 615 recipes. Of course, the recipes include Crisco. Other companies such as Campbell Soup have used similar strategies to sell their products through marketing books.

The images below are from A Calendar of Dinners.


Better Crocker was a creation of Marjorie Husted (1892-1986) while working a General Mills company. The goal was to invent a brand name that people would associate with baking and General Mills products. Chosen as an all-American name, it was first associated with a radio program and coupons in the 1920s.

Softbound recipe books began to be included in produces such as Betty Crocker's 101 Delicious Bisquick Creations. Betty Crocker Cook Book of All-Purpose Baking was published during World War 2 to assist with war-time cooking.

The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook was published in 1950. Written by the staff at General Mills, it is currently in its 10th edition and is called Betty Crocker Cookbook. The Betty Crocker Cookbook first published in 1955 has sold over 27 million copies.

Many special editions of the book have been produced such as Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls.

The image below shows the title page of Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls (1975).


Churches, schools, societies, and nonprofits organizations often sponsor cookbooks that are sometimes used as fundraisers. For instance The Pilgrim Cook Book published by The Ladies Aid Society of Pilgrim Ev. Lutheran Church in Chicago contains 700 tested recipes. Published in 1921, the electronic version has been downloaded more than 10,000 times on

try itTry It!
Explore the New England Chowder Compendium. Notice how they excerpt books to make comparisons of recipes.

Browse A Calendar of Dinners by Marion Harris Neil. Notice how Crisco is woven into the recipes. Can you find other examples of food producer cookbooks?

Browse the Cookbooks section of Or, check out the AncestryPath links and Amherst resources. Compare cookbooks from different time periods how have they evolved?

Irma Rombauer (1877-1962) wrote The Joy of Cooking in 1931. The Joy of Cooking first published in 1936 has sold over 18 million copies.

Julia Child (1912-2004) published Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961. Written for the American market, it focused on introducing the basics of French cuisine for mainstream Americans.

Read Cabinet of Culinary Curiosities. This article highlights a collection from a rare book library.
Think about the books that you would include in your own culinary curiosities book exhibition.

Although generally associated with cooking food, some authors have used the term cookbook to refer to other types of instruction books that help users perform a task step-by-step. For instance, The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell published in 1971 as an anti-war protest book.


Rand McNally published International Banker's Directory for the United States and Canada, The Lumberman's Directory and Reference Book of the United States and Canada, and other similar directories.

try itTry It!
Explore the International Banker's Directory by Rand McNally from 1876-81 or the The Lumberman's Directory (1891). Notice the advertising prior to the title page and at the end of the directory. What insights can be gained by exploring a directory like this from the late 19th century? Why was this a useful book when it was published? What useful information would historians find? Think of a few very specific examples.

Emblem Books

An emblem book is an illustrated book containing a collection of symbols with explanations. Although some early emblem books were not illustrated, most contained a combination of visuals and text.

To see an example, browse to Devises Et Emblemes. To see more emblem books, go to

Popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, they generally consisted of an engraving or woodcut illustration along with an adage, motto, or proverb. While some emblem books are religious containing moral lessons, others are secular.

According to Harthan (1981, 104),

"an emblem may be understood as 'a speaking picture.' It conveyed a literary conceit or moral precept in pictorial form whose meaning was elucidated by a motto and in many cases an accompanying verse. This combination of picture and explanatory text turned a literary genre (an emblem at first meant poem rather than the picture) into an art form."

In 1531, Italian Andrea Alciati (1492-1550) published a collection of emblems imitating Greek epigrams. Titled Emblemata or The Book of Emblems, it contained woodcut images and short Latin verse texts. It became popular throughout Europe and Great Britain.

The image below left shows the title page and below right shows an illustration from the Book of Emblems (1531).


A lady in waiting, Georgette de Montenay (1540-1581) wrote the first religious emblem book titled Emblemes ou Devises Chrestiennes in 1571. In 1593, Iconologia by Cesare Ripa was published. Otto van Veen (c. 1556-1629) produced a number of emblem books including Amorum Embelata which included love emblems.

The image below left is from Amorum Embelata and below right is from Atalanta Fugiens.


Michael Maier (1568-1622) wrote Atalanta Fugiens an alchemical emblem book published in 1617. The book includes poems, images, discussion and music.

In 1635 Francis Quarles published Emblems. George Wither published A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne in 1635.

After the 17th century, emblem books felt out of fashion, however William Blake (1757-1827) published Gates of Paradise reviving the emblem book type.

To learn more about emblem books, go to The English Emblem Book Project.


A encyclopedia is a compendium holding a summary of information in all branches of knowledge or a specific branch such as science. Generally encyclopedia are divided into short articles arranged in alphabetical order by article title.

harrlemEncyclopedia appeared early in the history of printed books and became more widely available as a result of the printing press. The modern encyclopedia emerged in the 18th century.

Jacob Bellaert printed an edition of Bartholomeus Anglicus's book Van de Propreiteiten der Dingen or Of the Propriety of Things in 1484. The nineteen books are divided into chapters focusing on the properties of all things. The book combined Bible teachings with contemporary scientific knowledge. The rich full-page illustrations would have been painstakingly painted by hand. When different copies of the book are compared it's possible to see the very different techniques that were used to paint the images. Although not technically an encyclopedia, it contained many of the features expected in this type of reference book.

The image on the right is from Of the Propriety of Things.

In 1553, Robert Estienne (1504-1564) published the first French encyclopedia titled Dictionarium Historicum ad Policum.

Ephraim Chambers (c1680-1740) published Cyclopaedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences in 1728. Many editions were published through the 18th century.

The images below include the title page and trigonometry section of Cyclopaedia.



brtiannicaDenis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717-1783) co-edited Encyclopédie. Focusing on all branches of knowledge, it was published in France between 1751 and 1772.

First published between 1768-1771, the Encyclopædia Britannica is a general knowledge encyclopedia published in English. Originally published by Colin Macfarquhar (c1745-1793) and Andrew Bell (1726-1809), it was created in response to Cyclopaedia and Encyclopédie. Over the years, management of publication has changed. Today, digital versions are available.

The image on the right shows the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

In the 20th century, smaller and more affordable encyclopedia were produced including Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia published in the 1920s.

During the 1950s and 1960s, World Book and Funk and Wagnalls were popular encyclopedia sold on installment plans to individuals.

During the late 20th century, some companies began placing their encyclopedia on CD-ROM and by the 21st century they were converted to the online format. The popularity of Wikipedia was reduced the demand for print encyclopedia.

tryitTry It!
Explore the Encyclopedia Britannica Index from 1911 for a sense of the topics. What's missing that would be found today?

Read Yeo, Richard R. (2007). Lost encyclopedia: before and after the enlightenment. Book History, 10, 47-68. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Read Benjamin, Michael (2014). In Search of the Grail: The Conceptual Origins of the “Encyclopedia Africana”. Information & Culture, 49(2), 204-233. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Field Guide

A field guide is a handbook used to identify flora and/or fauna. Often printed in a series focusing on different geographic areas or topics, the book is generally arranged alphabetically, by classification, or by other categories such as color. The book usually provides names, descriptions, photographs or sketches, maps, and suggestions for identification.

plantDen Nieuwen Herbarius was written by Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) and published by Michael Isingrin in 1542. Fuchs is considered one of the three founders of botany. He wrote more than 50 books on the topic. In 1545 a Latin pocket-sized edition was printed. It became the first practical field guide.

The image on the right shows a page from Den Nieuwen Herbarius was written by Leonhart Fuchs

According to Lommen (2012, 112),

"Fuchs had given the artists the instruction to make drawings (without the use of hatching) of the entire plant, including roots, stalks, and stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits, so the plants could be identified in nature in each of their stages. In this, the book not only departed from earlier botanical publications, which often included unrecognizable depictions, but also from editions that depicted only one specimen."

plumierCharles Plumier (1646-1794) was a French botanist who made voyages to the West Indies, Central America and South America under the direction of Louis XIV of France.

He published Traite des Fougeres de l'Amerique or Treatise on the Ferns of America (1705) containing 172 engravings. It was the first large monograph on ferns. He also published Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera (1703-1704) and others.

The image on the left shows a page from Descrption des plantes de l'Amérique (1693).

superbumDuring the late 18th and early 19th century, Europe experienced a growth of work in the area of botany and botanical illustration.

Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840) was a Belgian botanist and artist. He published 2100 plates including many species never before rendered. His books on lilacs and roses are particularly noteworthy.

The image on the right by Pierre-Joseph Redoute.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was a naturalist and scientific illustrator. She published books dealing with plants and insects including Neues Blumenbuch or New Book of Flowers. In a time when many people still believed in spontaneous generation, Merian took a scientific approach studying the life cycle of the butterfly and illustrated their stages in books like Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium.

The image below shows the title page and an image from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (1705) by Maria Sibylla Merian.


Mark Catesby (c. 1682-1747) was an English naturalist who published the book on the flora and fauna of North America titled Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. He was also the first to publish a bird book in color. He learned to etch and color his own illustrations to save the cost of publishing the books.

The image below shows images from Natural History of Carolinga, Florida and the Bahama Islands by Mark Catesby. The image on the left is the title page, the center image is of Tamias striatus (1731), and the right image is Quercus Anpotius (1754).


In 1834, Baron Cuvier's The Animal Kingdom was published. It contained a wide range of animals and nearly 500 plates.

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Explore The Animal Kingdom by Baron Cuvier (1834). It provides a nice example of natural history books during this time. Notice the high quality color illustrations.

Field guides continue to be popular today.

Bird Friends: A Complete Bird Book for Americans by Gilbert Trafton (1916) reflect the interests of citizen naturalists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It contains chapters like bird music, bird homes, and how to know the birds.

The images below are from Bird Friends: A Complete Bird Book for Americans by Gilbert Trafton (1916). You can read the text online.


Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) a well-known ornithologist established the Peterson Field Guides (PFG) that remain popular today. Peterson devised a system of bird field identification. The first edition of A Field Guide to Birds was published in 1934. His series of guides include the topics of birds, plants, insects, and other natural resources.

Massimo Vignelli (1931-) created the graphic design for The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds in 1977. The simple, modern design became popular in guidebooks.


A guidebook contains useful information for travelers to particular a geographic area such as cities, states, or countries. It often contains information about itinerary, lodging, restaurants, museums, historical sites, and other information useful to visitors.

Early travel guides were used to assist individuals on pilgrimages to the Holy Lands.

In the 17th century, "Grand Tours" of the great art and architectural sights of Europe were popular. Guidebooks highlights the routes and sights along the way. Most of these works focused on descriptions of locations rather than practical tips for travelers. Richard Lassels (1603-1668) wrote a series of guides that were published after his death such as The Voyage of Italy.

starkMariana Starke (c1761-1838) wrote a guide to travel in France and Italy for British travelers. It focused on practical information for traveler rather than the location descriptions found in many earlier works. For instance Travels in Italy (1802) provides useful information about excursions, costs, and routes. However it lacks the visual aspects including maps found in modern travel guides. Later editions of her work included maps and looked more like modern guides.

In the early 19th century, American authors began publishing guides that included both travel information, maps, and narratives.

Gideon Minor Davison (1791-1869) published The Fashionable Tour in 1822. He later published guided a guide for 1925. They guides explored areas of New England and Canada. Henry Gilpin (1801-1860) published The Northern Tour in 1825. Theodore Dwight (1796-1866) published The Northern Traveller (1925) also focusing on New England.

The images below are from The Northern Traveller by Theodore Dwight.

northerntravel map

Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) published his first guidebook, Rheinreise von Mainz bis Cöln in 1828 based on the work of Johannes August Klein. This German publisher focused on guidebooks for tourists including routes, transport, accommodation, restaurants, and sights. In 1846, he introduced a "star" rating system for sights, attractions, and lodging. He also felt strongly that quality maps were essential.

murrayJohn Murray III (1808-1892) was born into a publishing dynasty in England. Along with publishing works like Charles Darwin's Origins of the Species (1859) he was known for his guidebooks for particular countries including locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Published in London beginning in 1836, this series of guides included information and routes along with maps. His guides were often had red covers. If you search for John Murray in Archives, you can find many of his guides to explore.

Both Baedeker and Murray called their travel guides "handbooks".

James Muirhead (1853-1934) and Findlay Muirhead (1860-1935) worked for the Baedeker company preparing travel guides. They were responsible for continuing the Baedeker guides. After Murray's death, they acquired the rights to Murray's guides. Beginning in 1918, they published London and its Environs. Known as Blue Guides, they continue to be published as authoritative travel guidebooks. Today, the focus more on art, architecture, and history of destinations.

Read Francois, Pieter (2012). If it's 1815, this must be Belgium. Book History, 15, 71-92. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Or, read Gassan, Richard (2005). The first American tourist guidebooks: authorship and the print culture of the 1820s. Book History, 8, 51-74. IUPUI students can view the article online.

During the 20th century, many travel guidebooks emerged including Frommers, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides. Many of these books were the first to become e-books because of the need to reduce weight when traveling.


A handbook is a reference book containing factual information on a specific subject. These compact books are intended to provide quick access to information and are sometimes produced in a series. Ready-reference handbooks are sometimes called pocket reference books because of their small size. Handbooks are popular in scientific fields such as medicine. They are also common in language learning such as books that provide citation guidelines like the MLA Handbook.

No all handbooks are small in size. For instance, many engineering and science handbooks are large volumes that provide quick reference to a variety of data and topics.

Roberto Valturio (1405-1475) was an Italian engineer and author known for his handbook on warfare titled De Re Militari or The Art of War. Written around 1455, it contains outstanding illustrations by Matteo de' Pasti. Designed for military users, it was one of the first printed handbooks. The best known version was printed by Bonini in 1472 and include 95 woodcuts.

The image below is a submarine in De Re Militari (1472).


Jan Van De Velde (1593-1641) was a Dutch painter and engraver. He published a handbook on calligraphy called Spieghel de Schrijfkonste or Mirror of the Art of Writing in 1605. Pointed pen use was becoming popular at this time and his book was reprinted by a number of different publishers including Cornelis Claesz and Willem Jansz Blaeu.


How-To Books

How-to books provide useful information on accomplishing a task including step-by-step instructions. How-to books can be found across subject areas from medicine and theology to engineering and psychology (Cormack & Mazzio, 2005). More than many other books, they are designed to actively involve readers by asking users to take action.

Do Things

From professional and trade topics like performing surgery or constructing a chair to domestic topics such as cookbooks, a wide range of how-to books have been published.





Personal Conduct

During the Renaissance, conduct manuals for a wide range of people were produced. Called courtesy books, they focused on the code of personal conduct.

Eramus wrote the first book on the moral education of children. Published in 1530, De Civilitete Morum Puerilium or A Handbook on Manners for Children was written in simple Latin and described how a boy should conduct himself around adults. The book was a success and was translated into many languages. The first English version was published by Robert Whittington in 1532 under the title A Little Book of Good Manners for Children.

Advice and Self Help

An advice book provides practical information on everyday life. In the past, these were commonly aimed at women on topics such as etiquette and household management.

Read Weller, Toni (Winter 2014). The puffery and practicality of etiquette books: a new take on Victorian Information Culture. Library Trends, 62(3), 663-680. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Self-help books focus on improving oneself including self-analysis and self-cure. In the past half-century, popular business books and personal improvement books have become popular. How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) by Dale Carnegie (1888-1855) has sold over 15 million copies.

To learn more about the history of advice books for women, go to the University of Delaware or the Smithsonian Libraries.

Business Self-Help

Many self-help books focus on career and business.


Some how-to books help orient readers to their world. Although many focus on geography, others involve cultural, professional or social orientation.

New Age Book

A new age book is used to describe titles that are outside the American mainstream such as natural foods, astrology, and spiritual practices.


A manual is a book providing practical rules, steps, and instructions for performing a task or using a piece of equipment. Often produced by government agencies or companies that produce objects, these compact sized books may be pamphlet sized or large volumes.

The United States military is known for their field manuals. These works often have detailed illustrations to identify parts of objects. To see many examples, go to and do a search for military manual.

The images below are from a Special Forces Military manual.


Organizations often publish manuals. For instance, Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Campfire Girl manuals are a few examples. Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell (1908) has sold between 100-150 million copies.

Also known as user guides or owner's manuals, these instruction manuals contain technical documentation to help readers use a piece of equipment. The books often contain safety information, assembly, installation, and set-up instructions, maintenance information, usage guidelines, troubleshooting times, regulatory code compliance facts, technical specifications, and warranty information. They sometimes include a very short "quick start" guide.

In the 20th century, manuals were popular for use with cars, appliances, and computer software. Today, many manuals are multilingual to support a global audience.

Instruction manuals may also include guidelines for performing activities such as swimming, fishing, or dancing. An American Ballroom Companion contains many online manuals for dancing from 1490 to 1929. Notice how visuals are used in manuals.

Gerard Thibault (c. 1574-1627) was a Dutch fencing master. In 1628, his rapier manual was published. Known for its detail and use of logic in swordsmanship, it became a classic example of a manual. The Academie de l'Espee or Academy of the Sword was printed by his heirs after his death. The book contains 63 enormous plates created by 16 engravers.

This image below is from Academie de l'Espee.


Study guides are manuals designed for students to prepare for an examination or complete a course.

In the 19th century, correspondence courses began popular. These instructional experiences often included books and study guides such as Shaving Made Easy: What the Man Who Shaves Ought to Know (1905) and Practice and Science of Standard Barbering (1951).

The images below are from Practice and Science of Standard Barbering (1951).


The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (1939) by Bill Wilson first published in 1939 has sold over 30 million copies. The book contains the "twelve-step methods" used to treat addictions.

Cliff Hillegass (1918-2001) started the CliffsNotes series in 1958. These small study guides focused on commonly assigned literature. Although they are intended to be used as a supplement, many students use them instead of reading the text. The bright yellow covers were easy to identify.

Pattern and Sample Books

Sometimes the terms pattern and sample book are used interchangeably. They are also sometimes associated with catalogs.

A pattern book is a book that is intended to be copied for creating something such as designs on pottery, architectural designs, or templates for sewing. While some pattern books are also instructional manuals, others are simply intended to serve as models for production.

wallPattern books were published throughout Europe from the 15th to the 19th century. These books provide an exciting record of decorative elements from around the world.

I quattro libri dell'architettura or Four Books on Architecture by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was published in 1570. This classic book contained drawings of classical Roman architectural features.

In 1856, Owen Jones (1809-1874) published The Grammar of Ornament. This book contained colored illustrations of decorations.

The image on the right shows a wallpaper group from The Grammar of Ornament.

Franz Meyer (1849-1927) published A Handbook of Ornament in 1898.

An Embroidery Pattern Book (1917) by Mary E. Waring includings many designs for embroidery.

The images below are from An Embroidery Pattern Book (1917).


A sample book contains specimens that can be reviewed by potential customers. These books are often associated with commercial products such as floor tile, wallpaper, or cloth.

The Pattern Book of Silks and Damasks (1700) provided customers with choices from many clothes. Armstrong's Pattern Book (1949) is an example of flooring options.


primerA textbook is a book designed specifically for use by students in learning. Sometimes called coursebooks, they are designed for use in a specific course of study. Workbooks, lab manuals, and instructor manuals are often published in conjunction with a textbook.

A primer is a book designed for young children who are learning to read and spell.

The printing press allowed early duplication of textbooks. Compulsory education led to the need for standardized textbooks for students. The English Protestant Tutor was first introduced in England by Benjamin Harris (1673-1716). He brought it to the American colonies as the New England Primer in Boston between 1687 and 1690. The New England Primer (shown on right) was reprinted by Benjamin Franklin.

Noah Webster (1758-1843) published the Blue Back Speller. His grammar book was published in 1784 and reader in 1785. It became a three-volume compendium.

Since the 19th century, textbooks have been used in classrooms around the world.

Basal readers are textbooks designed to teach reading. They are generally organized around stories containing specific words and skills. The McGuffey Readers were the first to use this technique.

The McGuffey Readers by William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) sold over 125 million copies. These graded primers were marketed beginning in 1836 and continue to be sold today. McGuffey was asked to create a series of four readers for the primary grades. Over time, revised editions were added.

The image below is from the revised MuGuffey's Eclectic Reader.


dickThe Scott Foresman Company introduced the "Dick and Jane" books in the 1950s. The "look and say" approach was used to reading placing emphasis on memorization rather than phonics.

In 1955, Rudolf Flesch (1911-1986) wrote Why Johnny Can't Read criticizing the "sight-word" approach used in Dick and Jane's approach to reading.

In the 1970s, the phonics-based approach returned.

Instructional texts have been produced across academic areas. For instance, Pattern Making (1922) by Agnes K. Hanna is an example of an instructional book on creating patterns for sewing.

The US government has produced many books on topics related to sewing. For instance, Instruction Book Professor Livingston's Academy: Designing Pattern Drafting Dress Making Millinery (1922) was printed by the US Printing Office. The book is divided into a series of lessons.

A copybook is a textbook used to teach a specific skill. Users are provided with examples and blank space is provided for copying and writing answers. The goal is for students to learn through imitation. Copybooks are common for penmanship, arithmetic, and other basic skills.

Copybooks became popular in the 17th century. The Pen's Triumph (shown below) published in 1658 is a penmanship copybook.


George Bickham the Elder (1684-1758) began by writing copy books and business texts in the early 18th century. He published The Universal Penman was published in 1733. It was intended as a book of writing exemplars that could be copied.

The American Instructor: Or, Young Man's Best Companion was originally published in 1748. This was the first American copybook.

Clark's Tangible Shorthand Self-Instructor Copy Book (1900) is an example of a copybook from the early 20th century.

The image below from Clark's Tangible Shorthand Self-Instructor Copy Book (1900) shows a page where students read, then copy.


Trade Literature

From seed catalogs to sewing machine catalogs a wide range of trade books have been published over the centuries. Although trade literature generally refers to catalogues, it can also include advertising brochures, instruction manuals and other printed works.

To learn more go to Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Trade Literature Collection and Architectural Trade Catalogs.


A yearbook is an annual compendium of information related to a particular country, institution, or subject. Often containing facts, photographs, statistics, and other information, yearbooks are often documentary or memorial in nature. Thousands of examples can be found at

To learn more, read Lear, Bernadette A. (2006). Book history in scarlet letters: the beginning and growth of a college yearbook during the Gilded age. Book History, 9, 179-212. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Essays and Speeches

An essay is a short literary composition reflecting an author's viewpoint. Generally, essays focus on a particular theme. They are often published in books as a collection.

Michel de Montaigne's Essays written between 1570 and 1592 provided the foundation for the new literary genre known as essay. Focusing on issues that connect past, present, and future, his work impacted authors like Blaise Pascal, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Isaac Asimov.

The Prophet (1923) by Khalil Gibran (1923) has sold more than 11 million copies.

Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and A Room of One's Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf were best sellers.

Speeches are public addresses. They are often published in collections as books.


Benjamin, Michael (2014). In Search of the Grail: The Conceptual Origins of the “Encyclopedia Africana”. Information & Culture, 49(2), 204-233.

Cormack, Bradin & Mazzio, Carla (2005). Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700. Available:

Darnton, Robert (Summer 1982). What is the history of books? Daedalus, 111, 65-83.

Newman, John Henry (1886). The Idea of a University: Defined and Illustrated. Sixth Edition. Longmans, Green, and Co. Available:

Weller, Toni (Winter 2014). The puffery and practicality of etiquette books: a new take on Victorian Information Culture. Library Trends, 62(3), 663-680.

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