Fenster zur Vergangenheit 2. Bilder im Geschichtsunterricht [Janela para o passado: Imagens no Ensino de História] – BUNTZ; ERDMANN (IJRHD)

BUNTZ, Herwig; ERDMANN, Elisabeth. Fenster zur Vergangenheit 2. Bilder im Geschichtsunterricht, Band 2: Von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zur Zeitgeschichte. Bamberg 2008 (C. C. Buchners Verlag), 224 S. Resenha de: HAUE, Harry. International Journal of Research on History Didactics, n.31, p.287-290, 2010.

This second volume follows “Fenster zur Vergangenheit from Antiquity to Medieval Times,” which appeared in 2004 (review in Yearbook 2005 by Patrick Minder) and contains 51 images from Early Modern Times until today, e.g., from the embankment of Columbus to 9/11 in 2001. Patrick Minder called this chain of epochal images for “balisage” indicating the choice of images as a system of buoys, which should guide the learner through history. The 51 images are an appropriate mixture of German, European and oversea items. There are good reasons to develop the learner’s knowledge about learning from images, because the late modern society is overwhelmed by a constant stream of pictures, which indicates an “iconic turn” from text to images. This turn is a challenge to the teaching of history at any level, and the aim must be to strengthen the reflective abilities of the learner when inferring reality from image. Therefore, the book in question can have an important function in teaching and learning history.

The initial part of the book describes the power of images and emphases some fundamental methodological problems; among others Panofsky’s views are brought forward and the concepts of iconology and iconography are mentioned. As many of the newest images are photos, some considerations on their interpretation and use is elaborated, and the research of Karin Hartewig and Gerhard Jagschitz is mentioned. Hartewig finds Panofsky’s theories very useful, but as they are developed in connection with interpreting early modern paintings, it is necessary to supplement them with theories, which are useful when analyzing photos, and the reliability of this presumable trustworthily media is discussed. Jagschitz has developed four levels of interpretation: 1. the evident which is recognizable, 2. the ability to reconstruction, 3. the mute and not immediately understandable, and 4. the effect on learners. Buntz and Erdmann recommend teachers to use a mixture of methods, and the book is especially meant for the teacher as a guide to plan and carry out lessons. The book contains also a useful explication of keywords.

The structure of each item is as follows: a description, interpretation and presentation of the sources in question, supplementary material, and some suggestions for the lessons and finally biographical notes. The selected images are exemplary illustrations of innovative events, such as the landing of Gustav Adolph in Penemünde in 1630, paradigmatic changes in society like the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or symbolic rendering of fundamental institutions as the Declaration of Human Rights in 1789.

The descriptions are necessarily short, and loaded with information; however, the most fundamental facts about pictures are presented, such as the period, place, composition, and the observer’s viewpoint, the identity of the persons and their positions and relations, clothing, the artifacts, decorations, inscriptions and symbols. The descriptions often begin in the center of an image, for example a person is the starting point and then the perspective is widened and ends in a specification of the landscape/horizon or the peripheral framework. The descriptions give a necessary background for fulfilling Jagschitz’ first level: the evident recognizable.

The interpretations are short, too; however, important for learners to know, in order to move to the second level in Jagschitz’ model, is: the reconstruction. For example, in connection with the copperplate of the embankment of Columbus we are informed that it represents different, not simultaneously occurring events. The image is a construction, which compared to the description in the log book of Columbus, on several points is misleading. Another example is “The Spring in Prague”, which is represented first with a photo of Czech dignities from March 30th 1968, among them Alexander Dubcek, and then a manipulated photo with the omission of Dubcek. A combination of the description and the interpretation give the learner knowledge of what has happened as well as why. When comparing the two different editions of basically the same photo, students are trained to be aware of photo manipulations and to learn and use methods to detect it. Buntz and Erdmann have also chosen to show the Lenin-Trotski-photo from 5. May 1920, and explain the new edition of it from 1927 and onward. The aim of the lessons must be to learn that a photo does not show history, but different forms of visualizations of history, or as Jean Magritte formulated it: Ceci n’est pas une pipe – but a representation of a pipe.

The presentation of the source material and supplementary explications, which also follows each image, is important for the next step in understanding images, and brings the learner to discern the mute and not immediate recognizable content of it and its representation. In connection with the Lucas Cranach-painting of the changes brought about by the Reformation “The Fall and the Grace” from 1529, some useful biographic notes are given and an explication of Cranach’s attitude to the concepts of “law and grace.” In connection with a copperplate from around 1640 representing a noble man and a peasant, the supplementary material is a “Cahiers de doléance” from 1789, which depicts the miserable situation of peasants and farmhands 150 years later, and hereby indicates that the French Revolution had a long fuse.

Each image has a short paragraph on how to use it in lessons, for example Francisco de Goya’s painting of the execution of the Spaniards in 1808. For the learners reception of this dramatic image the authors recommend an interdisciplinary collaboration between the subjects of art and history, and the aim of the teaching must be to let the learners reflect on the timelessness of the sufferings of war, not least those of the civilians, and for instance to compare Goya’s painting with Eduard Mannet’s “The Execution of Kaiser Maximillian” from 1867 and Pablo Picasso’s “The Massacre in Korea” from 1951. The didactic recommendations may lead to enlarge the learners’ knowledge, abandon prejudices and develop critical reflectivity, also when interoperating images outside the school. For further reading three or four books are recommended for each image.

All image representations are black and white, and this is not a problem for instance in the case of the photo of Lenin and Trotski from 1920, but it is a deficiency when working with David’s “Marat à son dernier soupir” or the above mentioned painting of Goya. Of course, teachers can find representations in color, and the Internet makes it easy to find good reproductions; however, it would have choice of the 51 images is no doubt in accordance with the general rules for teaching history in the different German federal states; however, many teachers will surely ask the question: Why have the authors just chosen those pictures? This question is quite appropriate because the selection might be a hidden argument for a canon, and it would have made a good book better, if the reasons for the actual selection had been explained and substantiated.

“Fenster zur Vergangenheit” is a meticulously and useful instrument for the teaching of history. Teachers will find much valuable and useful inspiration in the combination of different elements of explication and suggestions for each of the 51 representations and thereby, further the qualification of learners’ historical consciousness in our modern and global society, where images, pictures, photos and electronic representations of events and conditions are so dominant in the culture of pupils and students.

Harry Haue 

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