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Michigan State University

Popular Culture in MSU Special Collections: Etiquette & Conduct Books

Introduction

Etiquette and conduct books are highly significant resources for social history. Going back hundreds of years, this genre records expectations for behavior and ideals for social interaction as they evolve over time.

While rules of etiquette can be employed as gatekeeping ("Do you know which fork to use at a formal dinner?") many have the goal of showing courtesy to the people around you.

For example, suggestions on how to introduce people to each other are meant to help the two new acquaintances feel comfortable starting a conversation.

Conduct books are sometimes prescriptive, and older works may be concerned with upholding gendered and class-specific social roles.

Resource guide author

Ruth Ann Jones

MSU Libraries, Special Collections

jonesr@msu.edu

How to search

The most-used subject headings for books in this genre are:

  • Etiquette - good manners and how to behave in various social occasions
  • Conduct of life - living according to a set of moral principles or social dictates

There's a fair amount of overlap in the content, so they're discussed together in this resource guide.

To get a broad view of the collection, go to the library catalog Advanced Search page (1)

  • Under Advanced Keyword Search, type the search terms etiquette or "conduct of life" (2)
    • Using "or" will retrieve books with either subject heading
  • Under Limited to | Collection, change Entire Catalog to Special Collections (3)

Screen capture from an Advanced Search for the terms "etiquette" OR "conduct of life" with results limited to Special Collections

Narrowing your search

Suppose you're looking for conduct books to understand social expectations for women ibefore and during the first women's rights convention in the U.S., held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848.

You could modify the above search to add the term women (4) and to limit publication dates to 1800-1850 (5)

Screen capture of an Advanced Keyword search. The first search box has the terms "etiquette" or "conduct of life." The second search box has the term women. The Limited To field is set to Special Collections. The Within field is set to "From 1800, to 1850"

From our collection

Flyer advertising the book "The Cynic's Rules of Conduct" by "Chester Field" (a pseudonym) Book cover of "I Try to Behave Myself: Peg Bracken's Etiquette Book." Book cover for "He-Manners: Young Man's Book of Etiquette" has a young man in athletic shorts holding an object which seems to be a teacup.Book cover of "Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned" by Amoja Three Rivers

Michigan State University