Conference on Soviet Illustrated Books for Young Readers Friday-Saturday May 1-2 at Princeton

Cotsen is delighted to help spread the word about an international conference about Soviet illustrated children’s books!

“The Pedagogy of Images: Depicting Communism for Children”

A Symposium at Princeton University, May 2015.

Friday May 1st, Bobst Hall Room 105,  9:00am – 6:00pm.

Saturday May 2nd, Chancellor Green Room 103, 10:00am – 7:00pm.

Keynote: Dmitry Bykov, “The Golden Key to Blind Beauty: Reading the Russian Revolution Through Soviet Children’s Literature”. Friday May 1st, Aaron Burr Hall 219, 6:30pm.

The symposium will convene an international and interdisciplinary group of 16 scholars who work on Soviet-era Russian illustrated books for young readers.

Socialism always had major pedagogical ambitions: building a new society was also about promoting new forms of social imaginary and a new vocabulary of images. Lenin’s plan of monumental propaganda is well known and well researched. This symposium’s project is collaborative scholarly investigation of a less monumental but no less important and pervasive visual language developed by the socialist state for its children. Specifically, the participants will examine the interplay of text and image in illustrated books for young Soviet readers.

As a part of the general desire to translate state socialism into idioms and images accessible to the illiterate, alternatively literate, and pre-literate, children’s books visualized ideological norms and goals in a way that guaranteed easy legibility and direct appeal, without sacrificing the political identity of the message.  Relying on a process of dual-media rendering, illustrated books presented the propagandistic content as a simple narrative or verse, while also casting it in images. A vehicle of ideology, an object of affection, and a product of labor, the illustrated book for the young Soviet reader became an important cultural phenomenon, despite its perceived simplicity and often minimalist techniques. Major Soviet artists and writers contributed to this genre, creating a unique assemblage of sophisticated visual formats for the propaedeutics of state socialism.


In preparation for the symposium a selection of 47 books from the Cotsen Children’s Library underwent digital imaging, and the digital surrogates were mounted as a publicly accessible collection in the Princeton University Digital Library (“Soviet Era Books for Children and Youth 1918-1938”). The 47 books were selected from the Cotsen’s holdings of approximately 1,500 Soviet-era Russian imprints, almost 1,000 of which were published between the 1917 Revolution and the beginning of WWII. All of the selected imprints are very rare; a third of the editions included are held in only one other collection in North America, and more than a third are not held in any other North American collections.

Organizing Committee:

Thomas Keenan, Serguei Oushakine. Katherine Hill Reischl

To learn more about this momentous project (including the schedule of symposium speakers and the collaborative annotated catalogue) see the main site for The Pedagogy of Images.

(Just in case this is your first time visiting, here are the links for the interactive campus map and printable campus map).

		         До свидания!



Cotsen Conference “Imagining Sameness and Difference” featured in RBM…


Cover of RBM (vol. 14, no. 2) Fall, 2013

An illustration from a Cotsen Library book was featured on the cover of the Fall 2013 issue of RBM: Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, issued by RBMS, the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of ALA.

This black-and-white reproduction was based on a hand-colored engraving of a children’s home geography party, printed in Dean & Munday’s The Little Traveller, or, A Sketch of the Various Nations of the World (ca. 1830). 

Cotsen Library had used a color reproduction of this engraving on the poster and website for its September, 2013 conference in Princeton entitled, “Putting the Figure on the Map: Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children,” as noted in the text below, taken from the credits page of RBM.

Teaching Geography

Teaching Geography: hand-colored wood engraving, “The Party,” from “The Little Traveller” (Dean & Monday, [ca. 1830]) (CID 3885)

 On the Cover: (RBM, vol 14, no. 2, p. 62)

“The Party,” hand-colored wood engraving from: The Little Traveller, or, A Sketch of the Various Nations of the World: Representing the Costumes, and Describing the Manners and Peculiarities of the Inhabitants: Embellished with Fifteen Beautifully Coloured Engravings / by J. Steerwell. (Lon­don: Dean and Munday, Threadneedle-Street, [ca. 1830]). The copy of the book from which this illustration is taken is in the Cotsen Children’s Library, part of Princeton University Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections Department.

This illustration was also reproduced on the website and print brochure for a Cotsen Library conference at Princeton on September 11-13, 2013, tided. “Putting the Figure on the Map: Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children.” The conference explored how children’s books were important vehicles for the expression of senses of national identity during the nineteenth century, a time when the world seemed to shrink, thanks to improved communi­cations and transportation that facilitated travel, whether for commerce, conquest or leisure. Similarly the wonders of the world could be brought into the home via photography, maps, travel writing, and fiction. The representation of foreign lands inevitably required the illus­tration and description of their residents, which gave rise to a rich repository of colorful im­ages of diversity. Through a tangle of national types, stereotypes, and archetypes, children’s books shaped discourse as much as they reflected mainstream adult culture.

Exploring these themes, and others, this interdisciplinary Cotsen conference featured presentations that drew on the approaches of imagology, history, anthropology, psychology, and literary criticism, to discuss modes of expression arising that either targeted children, within or without the classroom, or appropriated discourses for them, to present competing, complimentary or contradictory images of foreign nations.

For more information about the Cotsen Library or this conference, visit the Cotsen website: