Freshman Rhetoric (1913) – John Rothwell Slater

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During the COVID lockdown, when I was stuck at home, I found myself trawling the Internet Archive for old public domain books to read. I’m still astounded at the fact that there are complete libraries of books available at a moment’s notice on the Internet, so when I have a spare hour or three I’ll sometimes search for obscure books that wouldn’t normally be available.

This particular time I searched for books of rhetoric; my intention was to find books by Ancient Romans, but as these searches tend to do, I ended up looking at something completely different: old college Rhetoric textbooks. Back in 1910s, what we call Communications courses today used to be called Rhetoric courses. And after skimming a few uninteresting books, I happened upon Freshman Rhetoric, written by John Rothwell Slater in 1913. As you can surmise by the title, the textbook was to be used in freshmen rhetoric courses, covering topics such as writing short papers, using the college library, public speaking, debating, and other related topics. What set this book apart from the others I had browsed was the clarity and quality of the prose.

But reading a book on a screen isn’t something I like to do for long period of time, and so I looked to see if there was an e-book version. As it turns out, the Internet Archive has one, but it’s just an optical scan, and there are (to my knowledge) no edited versions out there. And the optical are not pleasant to read, to say the least. Here’s some examples of what the optical scan looks like in comparison with the print version.

It’s somewhat readable in places, but it completely falls apart if there’s any kind of tables and text not in normal paragraphs. And so I decided to try to edit the file in Calibre (a free e-book organizer) so that the e-book version resembled the physical book as much as possible. After all, I had some experience with HTML coding, how hard can it be? As it turned out, very difficult, especially for a textbook that has a lot of different types of formatting. The initial proofread took about a month to complete, and by the time was finished I needed to go through it again to implement at the beginning of the book what I had learned by the time I had finished it.

Here’s what edited e-book looks like in comparison with the physical scan:

I finished the first pass of the transaction in 2021, and put the finishing touches on this year (2022). The book has a couple of rough edges, especially in some formatting areas, but I think it’s good enough to release into the wild. Enjoy!

On Distractions

I’m working on transcribing/editing an old college rhetoric (communications in today’s parlance) textbook from 1913, and came across this strangely relevant passage on how to study (highlighted):

As mentioned in the next sentence, the admonition was against sitting at a window facing the street, where various people or motorcars or horses would be passing by, which would serve as distractions. But the advice is very relevant to today’s student with nearby screens (dazzling points of light) providing a tempting escape from the work in from of him or her.

I’ll have more from this gem of a book in the coming weeks.