Keep in Touch!

Assistant professor Amy Lueck time travels through yearbooks, unpacking the “have a great summers” of yesteryear.

Keep in Touch!
There are not many places where high school students can define their world. Yearbooks are one of them. / Image by Lauren Loftus

The inscriptions in assistant professor of English Amy Lueck’s yearbook collection could have been written this year, albeit some with a dose of Victorian propriety. “May your life be one of joy and happiness,” reads one. Perusing pages of sock hops and clubs, Lueck noticed that how students edit the books, in effect, shapes high school as we know it.


“We sat side by side in astronomy and walked together in the hall. These lines will remind you that we’ll forget each other ‘not at all,’” rhymes an inscription in the more than 100 yearbooks Lueck owns. They range from wallet-sized autograph books from the mid-1800s to her own grandfather’s annual from 1944.

“No one’s confused about what to do when they’re handed a yearbook. They have a stockpile of memorized verses to share,” Lueck says. What interests her is how the writing and compiling of yearbooks shapes the archetype of the American teenager and the high school experience.

The early yearbooks Lueck found while writing her dissertation in rhetoric and composition at University of Louisville coincide with the massive expansion of access to high school around the turn of the 20th century.

Akin to fill-in-the-blank baby books but for teen tropes, these mass-produced journals contain pages for faculty, athletics, and autographs.

What’s cool, she says, is that students have never seemed particularly interested in following the rules. They cross out headers and write new ones, paste photos of their friends, and insert mementos. “They’re really playing around with, ‘Well what do I want to remember, what do I want this book to capture?’”

Also notable is what’s left out. “There’s one I’ve seen from San Jose High School around the time of Japanese Internment that lists the Japanese-American Student Club under the title ‘No Longer Here,’” she recalls. “The remaining students are using the yearbook as a space to reaffirm communal bonds in the face of division and rupture.”

As a genre, “yearbooks are not just something we have but something we do,” Lueck says. “There are countless ways you could describe what happens in high school, but in all these we see patterns that come to really define what high school actually is.”

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