Skip to main content

Samuel N. Postlethwait papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 516

Scope and Contents

The Samuel N. Postlethwait papers document the pioneering audio tutorial system of instruction of Professor Samuel N. Postlethwait, which was first developed in 1961. Contained among the papers are various resources used by Posthlethwait in his audio tutorial approach to teaching, photographs of the laboratory, and of the staff involved in the Minicourse Development Project, minicourse guides, summaries, evaluations, and letters requesting Postlethwait’s minicourses. Also included are articles, publications, instructor’s manuals, handbooks and study guides written by Postlethwait, Frank and Jan Mercer, and others. There is conference material related to the audio tutorial way of learning, and photographs of an audio-tutorial convention and displays at Macquarie University, Australia. Also included are items related specifically to Biology 108 and 109, during the fall 1972 semester. Lastly, there is a venereal disease study guide and associated papers and brochures, along with two Exponent articles. Types of materials include articles, artifacts, an intact insect collection used in teaching, an audio tape, historical documents, instruction system design handbooks, manuals, study guides, papers, photographs, publications, teaching aids, devices, and evaluations, and teaching methods handbooks.


  • 1965 - 1981


Language of Materials

Collection material is primarily in English. There is one publication in Spanish.

Access Information

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Copyright held by Purdue University. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

Samuel N. Postlethwait was born in Wileyville, West Virginia on April 16, 1918. He attended Fairmont State Teachers College, where he received a two-year “Standard Normal” degree. He taught for one year, and then returned to Fairmont State College to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Per Postlethwait’s oral history, “My first year of teaching I was paid $98 per month for nine months. Each year a teacher’s salary was automatically increased by $2.00 the first year and $3.00 the next.”

Postlethwait enlisted in the Navy after teaching a few years. Per his oral history, “I became a communication officer and ultimately became the Operations Office at the port in Kittery Maine. I was assigned to submarines.”

After the war he returned to school on the G.I. Bill, earning a master’s degree at West Virginia State, and a Ph.D. at the State University of Iowa. He was hired as a faculty member in the Purdue Botany and Plant Pathology Department in 1949.

In 1957 Postlethwait went to England on sabbatical, primarily to investigate the British approach to teaching. When he returned, he kept thinking that there must be a better way to help students learn than the “3 lectures and lab” approach. His students suggested that there should be a general assembly session each week, a small group session once each week, and an independent study session in a learning center like the location provided by the audiovisual department. In 1961, Postlethwait pioneered the audio visual tutorial system of instruction. He built the Learning Center with his own hands and money in the basement of the Lilly Life Science Building. The students were responsive to this new way of instruction, and per Postlethwait, felt that they were a part in a new approach to education. He mentions in his oral history that the students gave him high ratings all the years he taught, up until his retirement in 1984. He was often referred to as the “Grandfather of Technological Instruction.”

Postlethwait was the recipient of many honors and awards including the Sigma Chi Best Teacher Award in 1965, the Helping Students Learn from the Botanical Society of America in 1989. Postlethwait is also among the “Book of Great Teachers” at Purdue. In retirement, he was active in the local community and gives talks on wild flowers and bird lore.

Samuel Noel Postlethwait passed at 100 years of age on January 15, 2019.


2.90 Cubic Feet (Four letter-size manuscript boxes, two half-width letter-size manuscript boxes, one legal size manuscript box, and one postcard box)


Articles, artifacts, audio cassette, historical documents, instruction system design handbooks, manuals, papers, photographs, publications, teaching aids and devices, and teaching methods handbooks, which document the pioneering audio tutorial system of instruction of Professor Samuel N. Postlethwait during the 1960s and early 1970s.


The collection is arranged into three series. Series One has two sub-series.


  1. Audio-Tutorial System
  2. Conference Material
  3. Teaching

Physical Access Information

The papers contain a very fragile insect collection that had been used in the audio-tutorial systems lab. The insect collection should be handled with extreme care.

Technical Access Information

There is an audio tape, which may need reformatted before it can be used. Contact Purdue University Archives and Special Collections if interested in using this material.

Custodial History

The material was located at Purdue Biological Sciences until transfer to Special Collections.

Acquisition Information

The material was transferred by Joyce Bell, Purdue Biological Sciences, Chemistry Building, on June 2, 1983.

Processing Information

The material was retained in the groupings and arrangement as it was received. All material has been housed in acid-free folders and boxes. Photographs have been placed in polyester and sleeves.
Samuel N. Postlethwait papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
First edition.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States