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Everyone knows what a textbook is; everyone had a pile of various textbooks while they were at school and in college. However, we were so busy studying to even wonder who the author of the first calculus textbook was and when the first geography textbook was published. Because, well, who cares? Yet, we got curious now and decided to find out more about the first textbooks and their authors. In this blog post, we’re answering the most popular questions about first-ever published textbooks.

When Did the First Textbooks Appear?

Throughout history, textbooks have always been present in one form or another. Some records of textbooks were found in Ancient Greece, Rome, China, India, Egypt, and other early societies. Later, up to the 16th century, the textbooks were written in Latin; they were handwritten and were supposedly meant to assist in learning the Latin language. The appearance of the first textbooks—the first printed textbooks—was connected with the beginning of mass book production, followed by the invention of the printing press. It’s also possible that some editions of Ars Minor, a schoolbook on Latin grammar by Aelius Donatus, were printed by Johannes Gutenberg himself. The later spread of compulsory education and the growth of schooling led to an increase in textbook printing as well. 

If we get down to US history, The New England Primer was the first textbook published for use by all schools in 1690 (and it was used until the 1930s). Before that, the Holy Bible imported from Europe was used. The New England Primer was followed by the Blue-Backed Speller of Noah Webster, which was the most common textbook used from the 1790s until 1836, until the McGuffey Readers replaced it.

Now let’s get to the questions and answers about the first-ever written textbooks on the most popular subjects.

Who Wrote the First Modern Chemical Textbook?

According to various resources, Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794) was the author of the first chemistry textbook. He was a French chemist who named oxygen and hydrogen in the periodic table, discovered the law of conservation of mass, and introduced quantitative measurement into the study of chemistry. He is also the one who wrote the first modern chemistry textbook—Traité élémentaire de chimie (Elementary Treatise on Chemistry)—in 1789.

Who Wrote the First Psychology Textbook?

The science of psychology is relatively young (some 200 years old), and as a science, it started with Wilhelm Wundt and his foundational work on psychology and his research that focused on the structure of the mind. He’s also considered to be the author of the first-ever psychology textbook: Principles of Physiological Psychology.

Who Wrote the First American Psychology Textbook?

Now that you know who wrote the first comprehensive psychology textbook, you may wonder who wrote the first American psychology textbook, too. William James, an American philosopher and psychologist (who was initially a physician), is considered the author of the first psychology textbook in the US. His Principles of Psychology, published in 1890, was a highly influential work in two volumes. One of the first modern psychology textbooks in social psychology—Social Psychology: An Outline and Source Book by Edward Alsworth Ross—was published in 1908.

Who Wrote the First Medical Textbook?

Now let’s move on to the question of the first medical textbooks. One of the first-ever medical books is a pre-modern text from Ancient Egypt Ramesseum medical papyri, which dates back to 1800 BCE. When it comes to modern medical textbooks, Gray’s Anatomy, written by Henry Gray and illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter, is considered the first medical textbook published in London in 1858. It was a reference book on human anatomy, which later was reprinted numerous times (in 2020, its 42nd edition came out). Some even consider it “the doctors’ bible.” The first ever published textbook in forensic medicine (the science that developed last in the field of medicine)—Forensic Medicine—was written by Svetozar Peshitsh in Belgrade in 1921.

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Who Wrote the First Surgery Textbook?

Want to know who wrote the first surgery book ever? It was Giovanni da Vigo, an Italian surgeon. Practica Copiosa in Arte Chirurgica saw the light in 1514 (and it was written in Latin). The first surgical book in the US was Elements of Surgery, authored by John Dorsey, a University of Pennsylvania surgeon, was published in 1813. It was the first systemic textbook of surgery, a two-volume work that covered all major clinical areas of surgery, which had three subsequent editions: in 1818, 1823, and 1831.

Who Wrote the First Music History Textbook?

The first music history textbook—General History of the Science and Practice of Music— was written by Sir John Hawkins in 1776. The first music history textbook published in the US was A History of Western Music by Donald Jay Grout in 1960.

Who Wrote the First Oceanography Textbook?

The Physical Geography of the Sea was the first oceanography textbook published in New York in 1855. It was authored by Matthew Fontaine Maury—an American astronomer, oceanographer, meteorologist, and cartographer. An extremely popular and widely read and referred to in ocean studies, it was the first book ever to focus on marine science specifically. 

Who Wrote the First Accounting Textbook Explaining Double-Entry Accounting?

What did people do before double-entry accounting? Right, they simply kept diaries of their income and expenses. With double-entry accounting, merchants could keep every aspect of their business under control. So, who was the author of the system and wrote the first accounting textbook on double-entry accounting? There are two versions. While Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli (also known as Luca di Borgo), a mathematician who collaborated with Leonardo Da Vinci, is nowadays considered to be the “Father of Accounting” because he was the one to supposedly recorded the system and published a book about double-entry bookkeeping method in 1494, there also was Benedikt Kotruljevic, who did something similar but a little earlier—in 1458—in his work Book on the Art of Trade.

Who Wrote the First Ornithology Textbook? 

De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Falconry, or The Art of Hunting with Birds, to be precise) by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen is the first ornithology textbook written around 1248 CE. The book focuses on methods of falcon hunting; however, its first chapter can be considered the first textbook of ornithology.

There are so many subjects and so many textbooks that we can’t cover them all in one article. Perhaps, you want to know more about the origin of a specific textbook? Let us know on our social media pages—Facebook and Instagram—and we’ll find this information for you!