Old School Classroom Technology | Newberry

Old School Classroom Technology

Classroom technology has evolved since the early modern era in Europe.

Students used to learn to read using hornbooks, wooden boards or paddles covered with a protective screen made from animal horns. Most hornbooks featured a printed or handwritten alphabet on a sheet of paper placed underneath the horn covering (some hornbooks featured religious prayers).

case_z1033_h8_no5a_o3(1).jpg

A small wooden paddle has a transparent screen running vertically. Under the screen is a handwritten alphabet.

Hornbooks were made from wooden boards, sheets of paper featuring a printed or handwritten alphabet, and a protective screen made from an animal’s horn. Call number: Case oversize Z1033 .H8

Inc. 5438.4(Vault)De arte grammatica, sive, De octo partibus orationis, folio.1r_o3(1).jpg

An illustration of an early modern classroom shows two younger students with hornbooks.

An illustration of an early modern classroom shows two younger students (on the ground) with hornbooks. From De arte grammatica, sive, De octo partibus orationi, 1495. Call number: VAULT Inc. 5438.4

Hand-held and portable, a hornbook might even have a hole for a leather strap that could have been attached to one’s waist. Given their shape and mobility, hornbooks can be seen as an early (read: extremely early) version of Kindles and iPads.

case_z1033_h8_no10a_o3(2).jpg

A small wooden paddle has a transparent screen running vertically. Under the screen is the alphabet. At the base of the paddle is a small hole.

Some hornbooks had holes so they could be fastened to a belt. In the early modern era, alphabets tended to treat I/J and U/V as two letters, respectively.

We know what you’re probably wondering at this point: were these things really made from animal horns??? Yes (although some weren’t). To make the protective horn covering, a thin piece of an animal’s horn would be soaked in water to separate the layers, then heated to make it transparent.

Hornbooks continued to be used in some parts of England into the nineteenth century.

case_z1033_h8_no7a_o3(1).jpg

A metal frame is mounted to a wooden board. Within the frame is a printed sheet of paper with the alphabet and the lord’s prayer on it.

Some hornbooks included religious prayers in addition to the alphabet.