Visual Media in Education: An Informal History

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  • This article was downloaded by: [McMaster University]On: 19 November 2014, At: 13:04Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Visual Resources: An InternationalJournal of DocumentationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/gvir20

    Visual Media in Education: An InformalHistoryCarla Conrad FreemanPublished online: 04 Jan 2011.

    To cite this article: Carla Conrad Freeman (1990) Visual Media in Education: An InformalHistory, Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation, 6:4, 327-340, DOI:10.1080/01973762.1990.9658877

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  • Visual Resources, Vol. VI, pp. 327-340 @Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, Inc., 1990 Reprints available directly from the publisher Printed in the United States of America Photocopying permitted by license only

    Visual Media in Education: An Informal History

    by Carla Conrad Freeman

    In his influential 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," the critic Walter Benjamin said that "In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new."l

    The visual resources profession as we know it today exists as a result of progress in the technology of mechanical reproduction combined with recognition of the visual image as an immediate and universal mode of communication. In the United States many of the largest and best-known slide and photograph collections document works of art, having been developed for use in departments of art history and professional fine arts programs. Art slide and photograph curators have also been responsible for much of the professional activity in the field during the past twenty years. In addition to the establishment of professional organizations and publica- tions, visual resources curators and librarians have made significant ad- vances in the selection, acquisition, production, conservation, classification, and automation of collections documenting the visual arts.

    It is important to remember, however, that "visual resources" have not historically been limited to photographic media, nor to art programs exclu- sively. In order to view the phenomenal growth of visual collections in a broader perspective it is necessary to have some understanding of the conditions surrounding the introduction of new technologies, their per- ceived strengths and weaknesses, and their impact on museum and library service as well as on teaching. The following overview highlights some

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  • 328 / VISUAL RESOURCES

    important developments in the use of visual media in education in the United States-not only in public schools and in higher education, but in the educational programs of museums and libraries as well. For more than a century, visual resources of various types have served the differing needs and goals of all of these institutions. By tracing their separate yet parallel lines of growth and development, we can gain a greater appreciation for the contributions made by our professional predecessors who were pioneers in the development of visual technology and the management of visual collec- tions.

    I. THE NINETEENTH CENTURY TO WORLD WAR I

    In Art in American Schools in the Nineteenth Century, Foster Wygant notes that "Through the colonial period and well into the nineteenth century, educa- tion, particularly secondary education, was for those who could afford it . . . the fight for publicly supported common elementary schools was not won until after mid-century, and compulsory attendance was not required by all states until 1918. Leading opinion was not agreed upon the need for universal education, or even for universal literacy, in the early days of the Republic."* Throughout much of the nineteenth century, public education in this country was frequently carried out in the "one-room schoolhouse" staffed by an itinerant teacher. The classroom was visually barren by today's standards, although an early textbook illustrated with woodcuts (the fa- mous New England Primer) was first printed in Boston in 1690 and continued to be used into the nineteenth century3 The curriculum was basically limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic, taught by the recitation method. The public schools were expected to serve a practical function, to equip citizens with certain skills; knowledge was not to be sought for its own sake. As a result, art education per se (which would almost surely have necessitated a greater use of visual examples) was almost nonexistent in this country before the middle of the nineteenth century. Art was eventually introduced into the curriculum in the form of instruction in drawing; but the type of drawing taught in the public schools at this time bore slight resem- blance to our contemporary concept of drawing as a means of creative self- expression. It was closer to what we know as "mechanical drawing," with an emphasis on accurate delineation of contour, line, and perspective. (Figure 1) It was seen as an adjunct to writing skills as well as a potential means of industrial employment. Reproductions of works of art did exist in the form of lithographs and engravings, but in general it was not considered neces- sary for elementary and secondary school students to have access to them.

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  • Visual Media in Education / 329

    13. Draw a bowl. (fig. 12.) Here is a semicircle ornamented with parallel fillets,

    and placed on a low pedestal.

    14. Draw a rouy-dish or turenne. (fig. 13.) The body i formed of a half ellipse, surmounted by

    a {ancy curve.

    15. Draro a tea-pot. (fig. 14.) Tlro principal part is a circle. the handle and nore

    fanciful.

    Figure 1. A pagefrom The Eye and Hand; Being a Series of Practical Lessons in Drawing, for the Training of Those Important Organs: Adapted to the Use of Common Schools, by William B. Fowle [Louis Benjamin Fruncoeur1, Boston, Leml. N. Ide, 1849, p. 45. (Courtesy of the Fine Arts Library, Harvard University)

    In addition, the average public school teacher at this time was simply not equipped by background or training to discuss the visual arts or to relate them to other areas of the curriculum.

    By the 1830s, however, the first steps toward the invention of photography had already been taken in France and England. Photography was to have a major impact on the visual environment in American education. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the development of new printing tech- niques, photographic processes, and manufacturing methods revolution- ized the production of educational materials. Illustrated texts were no longer scarce in the public schools and were now supplemented by a variety of charts, maps, pictures, and models, all of which were important visual resources in their time.

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  • 330 / VISUAL RESOURCES

    In the 1870s, cooperation between museums and the public schools further enriched the learning environment. In New York State, for example, the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences prepared lantern slides and speci- mens for the use of classes visiting the museum. Such cooperative programs became increasingly successful, making the new visual materials available to schools which could not yet afford to acquire and maintain their own collections. After 1900 museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City began to deliver nature study collections directly to the schools.

    A number of public school systems established "educational museums" of their own in order to provide visual materials to the schools on a regular basis. In Missouri, the St. Louis Educational Museum was one such exam- ple; it acted as the first instructional media unit in a public school system, using a horse and wagon to make weekly deliveries of materials to the St. Louis schools. Among these teaching materials was the stereograph, a non- projected image with the illusion of being three-dimensional, produced by a dual-lensed camera and viewed through a stereoscope. Other materials provided by the St. Louis Educational Museum included nature specimens, charts, pictures, maps, models, art objects, photographs, and lantern slide^.^

    Slides of various types have a long and distinguished history as educa- tional resources. The earliest lantern slides, dating from the seventeenth century, were hand-painted in either watercolor or oils. They were often elaborate and beautiful creations, generally larger in size (about 8 x 5") than their successor^.^ In the United States they were shown for instruction and entertainment quite early in the nineteenth century. In 1821, for example, the artist Charles Willson Peale attracted visitors to his Philadelphia Mu- seum by giving "Magic Lanthorn" exhibitions on Saturday night^.^

    Photographic lantern slides were first produced in the middle of the nineteenth century; many different processes were experimented with in an effort to improve their quality, and an equally large number of innovations in projection equipment had appeared by the end of the century. (Figure 2) The 3%" x 4" size became the standard, and was still in use until well into the twentieth century. (Figure 3) Lantern slides became a very popular teaching resource in the public schools. The New York State Education Department, for example, was actively involved in loaning lantern slides to classrooms as early as 1880 through what was later to become the Division of Visual Instruction. Over 260,000 slides on history, geography, science, literature, and art had been accumulated by 191L7 Unfortunately much of this original collection was destroyed by fire; the collection was begun anew after that,

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  • Visual Media in Education 1331

    Figure 2 . Various lantern-slide projectors in use at the end of the nineteenth century. ( F m Thomas Cnukiock l3qmnfh, The Book of the Lantern Kmda: Hazell, Watson, and Viney, 1899; ~ ' n t e d by A m Press, New Ymk, 1978) pp. 6-15.)

    reaching a maximum of 90,000 slides before this service to schools was discontinued in 1939. The slides were later accessioned by the State Archives in Albany.

    As might be expected, visual media were also enthusiastically adopted for use in higher education. The place of the lantern slide in newly develop- ing college and university art history courses has been thoroughly dis- cussed in a 1982 article by Howard B. Leight~n.~ Leighton states that by the time of the Civil War, six colleges in the United States had instituted courses dealing with the study of classical art and historical architecture. Teaching resources were still quite limited, however. Momentum was gained with the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870, and their introduction of public lectures two years later; in 1874, Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard began teaching his influential course in the "History of fine arts and their relation to literat~re."~ Although lantern slides had been used as a form of public entertainment in the United States since the early nineteenth century, they did not appear in art history lectures until the 1880s,1 when they were also in increasing demand by the public schools as noted above. It was

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    Figure 3. The "Crystal Magic Lantern Slide," c. 1877. ( F m L. J. Marcy, The Sciopticon Manual (Phila- delphia: James A. Mwre, 1877), p. 143.)

    during this decade that the first academic lantern slide libraries were established at Bryn Mawr, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Illinois, Princeton, and the University of Michigan.ll Lantern slides were undenia- bly cumbersome to produce during these early years; Leighton notes that under certain conditions, the required exposure time for a plate might be as long as two days.12 And although they were ideally suited for communicat- ing information about the visual arts, they were still not considered essential to the discipline. Norton himself did not use lantern slides to illustrate his lectures until 1896. l3

    One of the earliest suppliers of lantern slides in the United States was Lorenzo J. Marcy, a Philadelphia optician. Marcy was also the inventor of the Sciopticon (Figure 4), which he called "a greatly improved form of magic lantern." Marcy's Sciopticon Manual, which went into its sixth edition in 1877,14 gives us a glimpse of the state of the art in visual resources at this time. It provides technical information, followed by lists of slides available for purchase and suggestions for "descriptive lectures" to accompany them.

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  • Visual Media in Education / 333

    Figurr 4. Diagram of the Sciopticon, c. 1877. ( F m Marcy's Sciopticon Manual, p 3...