Nietz describes geography as one of the oldest subject fields, tracing its history from ancient times through the Renaissance. He calls geography, "the mother of many other subject fields," particularly history, and delineates the aims of early geography textbooks. Cultural aims include the acquisition of particular geographical knowledge and for interest and entertainment, especially when considering maps. Geographies were also written for civic purposes, increasingly through the years for relationships between geographical facts, and for basic textbook aims such as the provision for individual types of learners, time-saving purposes, and the improvement of geographical content. Nietz also writes that geography textbooks increased in size, from 28.9 square inches on average before 1840 to 98 square inches on average during the 1880s.
While Nietz only describes American histories in his book, many different world history texts are available in the collection. He states that, at least as far as American history is concerned, very few textbooks were printed before 1820 ("only eight or nine"), contributing the study of history to be mainly done through geography and readers at the time. Once published popularly, Nietz outlines how the textbooks describe their own historical aims as mainly for character training or how to attain the good that has been done, patriotism by emulating the good deeds done by historical figures, and the improvement of memory and thinking through the memorization of dates and the "recognition of cause and effect."
Nietz begins his discussion of civil government texts by mentioning some misconceptions about them, primarily that social studies was not a separate study before 1890. He states that, in actuality, there were, "seventy published in the United States before 1890, all of which bore separate titles." The cheif aims of the civil government texts, as mentioned in their prefaces and introductions are quite basic: patriotism, preparation for citizenship, and learning the principles of government. Another, rather surprising, aim found mainly in the earliest civil government texts were moral and religious, responding mainly to the growing secular feelings of the time, particularly those anti-religious practices from France.