Reference Archivist Elaine Rohr Gives a Fascinating Presentation on 18th Century British America

April 13, 2022

Over the last two weeks, GSSM has had the privilege of hosting guest speaker Elaine Rohr in Dr. Rohr's Colonial America course. Elaine has been a reference archivist at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for almost 16 years, and she specializes in the American Revolution. She has an undergraduate degree in English and a Master's degree in American history with a concentration in Public History, both from Western Carolina University. 

"Studying history is very important to me because to understand who we are, we need to understand how our present culture has been shaped by the views and actions of our forebears," said Elaine Rohr. "I am a social historian who wants to know-how, as much as possible when looking back through our small windows into the past, things' ticked'—how people actually lived during the 18th century in America. I wanted to ascertain just how children in British Colonial America learned to read and write."  

During Elaine's visits, she gave two presentations on reading and writing in 18th-century British America. During her presentations, she spoke about how society affected education, how people learned to read and write, and compared reading and writing teachings to what it is today. She provided students with a slide show presentation and gave them real examples of the tools that were used in the 18th century. 

When comparing the two time periods, Elaine mentioned the way society determined which children would be taught to read, who would teach them, and who would learn to write—as well as the method by which they were taught—was very different from the way society determines these things now.

"Unlike today, reading did not go hand-in-hand with the teaching of writing—Colonial Americans taught these as very separate subjects and assigned different levels of importance, and learning to read was considered far more important than learning to write," said Elaine Rohr. 

Elaine stated that the concept of literacy was different. Most modern people consider anyone who cannot read and write well to be illiterate. This was not the case in the 18th century. Many people, especially women and farmers, could read printed works but not write the cursive script. Some of these people could not only read printed works but also imitated printed writing and simple pen notes in the print script. Even though some people still lacked skills in writing, these people were considered literate. 

Thank you, Elaine, for coming and sharing your knowledge about this topic with our students at GSSM!