Loyola University Chicago

Department of History


Professor Kyle Roberts wins Schiller Prize from Bibliographical Society of America

Professor Kyle Roberts wins Schiller Prize from Bibliographical Society of America

Kyle B. Roberts, Assistant Professor of Public History and New Media, has been awarded the 2013 Justin G. Schiller Prize for his essay, “Rethinking The New-England Primer,” by the Bibliographical Society of America. It appeared in the December 2010 issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America and a preliminary version was presented at the Bibliographical Society's 2010 New Scholars Program. 

Finding something new to say about The New-England Primer, one of the most famous American children’s books of all time, is a truly daunting prospect, writes the Prize's Selection Committee. “Rethinking the New-England Primer” was distinguished by the depth of the primary research (some five hundred editions were examined) and its mastery of the vast secondary literature the Primer has generated.  Roberts’ use of evidence from illustrations is especially noteworthy, especially when taking into account the difficultly of analyzing pictures that are normally dismissed as too crude to be meaningful.   Roberts did more than describe the changes he observed in the text and illustrations of The New-England Primer over time: he related those changes to shifts in cultural values, by showing how a text whose viability over the decades was correlated to the contents’ adaptability, was eventually "frozen" by editors like Ira Webster, which transformed the Primer into a cultural artifact at a time when Americans was anxious about losing a part of their history.   In the committee’s view, Roberts’ essay is a model of how bibliographic data from children’s books can be used to make sense of changes in the wider culture.

Endowed by Justin G. Schiller, a dealer in antiquarian children’s books and member of the BSA Council, the Schiller Prize for Bibliographical Work on Pre-20th-Century Children’s Books is intended to encourage scholarship in the bibliography of historical children’s books. It brings a cash award of $2,000 and a year’s membership in the Society. Submissions this cycle included work by new PhD’s, promising young scholars, and seasoned veterans in the field of bibliography. Projects included a significant number about national print cultures other than those of England and America, a development the committee hopes will continue in the future.      

Roberts has been at Loyola since 2011 and teaches courses on Public History, Digital History, and early American History.  In Fall 2013, he will be teaching a graduate course introducing MA and PhD students to the ways in which digital technologies can shed new light on library, book, and religious history through a reconstruction of Loyola's first library catalogue (c.1878) in a virtual library system.