Academic journal article History of Education Review

Picturing the History of Teacher Education: Photographs and Methodology

Academic journal article History of Education Review

Picturing the History of Teacher Education: Photographs and Methodology

Article excerpt

Pictures are routinely identified as possible sources for researching history yet they are widely either neglected or underused. This article explores the use of pictorial materials, in particular photographs, in historical analysis. It describes some common, or standard, uses of photographs in historical writing, and critically discusses them. It identifies and examines methodological and ethical issues in using photographs as evidence. And it draws on a current project which is using a rich body of photographs as an integral part of its analysis of the history of one educational institution to explore these issues.

Pictures in histories--illustrating the problem

Perhaps the first thing to note is that to date, pictures and photographs have been relatively little used in historical analysis. Burke, in his major overview of the use of images in historical research, comments that:

   It may well be the case that historians still do not take the
   evidence of images seriously enough ... Relatively few historians
   work in photographic archives ... Relatively few historical journals
   carry illustrations, and when they do, relatively few contributors
   take advantage of this opportunity. When they do use images,
   historians tend to treat them as mere illustrations, reproducing
   them ... without comment. In cases in which the images are discussed
   [they are] often used to illustrate conclusions reached by other
   means. (1)

Burke's comments, directed at historical research in general, clearly apply to the history of education, where Novoa suggests that they are generally considered of 'lesser value' than other forms of historical record. (2)

The scale of this neglect of pictures in education history can be indicated by a quick count of articles in the major journals in the field. From 2000 to 2004, the four major English-language educational history journals (3) published a total of 322 articles in English; of these, only 45 made any use of pictures or illustrations.

With a few notable exceptions there is also a marked absence of discussion of methodological issues concerning the use of photographs in both historical analyses and the methodological literature. This is most obvious in the standard 'what is history and how to do it' literature, as well as in the historical methods sections of education research methodology texts, which focus on written texts and, more recently and to a lesser extent, oral sources, and rarely discuss the use of pictures. Two examples will suffice to illustrate the point.

The recent third edition of Tosh's Pursuit of History shows almost no sign of the 'visual turn' which some historians and other social researchers have identified since the first edition in 1984, despite its subtitle's claim to deal with 'new directions in the study of modern history'. (4) Certainly, the chapter devoted to 'raw materials' notes that 'historical sources encompass every kind of evidence that human beings have left behind of their past activities--the written word and the spoken word, the shape of the landscape and the material artefact, the fine arts as well as photography and film'. (5) Further, Tosh notes critically the dominance of the written word, but does so in relation to the spoken word, thus immediately narrowing the scope of his vision to words, adding that 'for the vast majority of historians, research is confined to libraries and archives'. (6) Yet the remainder of the chapter reinforces and recreates that orientation: there is not a single mention of visual materials.

McDowell's 2002 Historical Research: a guide also lists a wide array of sources: 'unpublished documents, letters and diaries, memoirs and autobiographies, oral evidence, official publication, business records, local history records, newspapers, paintings, prints and maps, photographs and filmed evidence'. We might note that nine of these are written; one is spoken; and four are visual and one (film) usually combines spoken and visual elements. …

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