Deutsch Intern
Institute of Education

School wallcharts: History and Research

About the history of school wallcharts

The beginning of school wallcharts is closely linked to the history of the illustration of schoolbooks. It is known that enlarged images from Basedow’s ‚Elementarwerk‘ were already used as school wallcharts at the public examination in the Dessauer Philanthropin in 1776. However, only after the invention and widespread circulation of the lithography was it technically possible and economically affordable to realize the philanthropist’s suggestion to produce large images for teaching which are visible for the entire class.

One of the first image series which was then developed is called “Methodische Bildertafeln zum Gebrauch beim Anschauungsunterricht in Elementar- und Kleinkinderschulen, besonders beim Taubstummen-Unterricht" (≈ methodical picture charts for the use in visual instruction in primary school, especially for teaching deaf-mute) from the year 1837, published by Ludwig Reimer and Carl Wilke.

In the second half of the 19th century, the close connection of book image and wallchart dissolves. School wallcharts obtain their own didactic-methodical status alongside to schoolbooks. The peak period of this teaching medium then starts, and covers the first third of the 20th century.

Starting in the 1870es, hundreds of series were published, often consisting of dozens of single images, especially for the first visual and language lessons, the subjects Religious Education, Geography, Natural History, but also for Arithmetic, Natural Philosophy, Technology, Drawing and even for Sports Instruction. This development was also encouraged by the didactic-methodical discourse of that time.

Due to the continuous distribution of technical projection media like diapositives, films and overhead transparencies, school wallcharts begin to lose their central position in teaching starting at the end of the 1960s. Today, only a small number of wallchart series are published. Moreover, multiply printed photographs have replaced the artistically designed charts.

About the research relevance of school wallcharts

The importance of visual sources for the Educational Sciences were not realised for a long time. Up until the 1980s, iconic materials only played a marginal role within educational research. Only when the historical Education turned away from the social sciences and turned to the real and social history more and more as well as to the micro-perspective questions, the focus on written sources was reduced. In connection to this development, the great value of historical sources like school wallcharts was realised as well. Alongside to schoolbooks, these visual teaching materials functioned as a central teaching medium for more than one century, up to the 1960s. They reflect the entire school knowledge of this time.

For the research of Educational Philosophy

School wallcharts, as the main visual media in schools, have had a great impact on the concept of history and the own identity for generations and they have shaped a national-cultural self-concept. School wallcharts as historical visual media belong to the context of the politics of images in a special manner. They are fictions of their time and are part of the cultural memory of European societies as historical contingent symbolic forms of meaning of self and world. School wallcharts are elements of a ‚reality politic‘ which focusses on establishing a fictional normativity in form of a specific order of reality. Therefore, the sources provide the possibility to conduct research concerning what was supposed to have been the norm because a specific space-time order as well as a social taste were incorporated through images.

For the cultural-historical research

School wallcharts are classic sources of zeitgeist research. The everyday views and opinions, stereotypes and positions, tendencies of taste and feeling of the time of origin are manifested in the content and formal design elements of school wallcharts. Furthermore, they offer a wide selection for different subject-specific historical questions.

For the aestethic research

School wallcharts were not only made for teaching, but also followed art educational intentions and had a great impact on the children’s artistic development of taste. Therefore, the wallcharts are also important documents of everyday aesthetics. They offer many important possibilities for art-historical and art-theoretical research aspects.

For the didactic and media-educational research

All central didactic questions about visualisation can be studied with the help of demonstrational images. Furthermore, due to the growing iconisation of our world, they experience exemplary meaning for the present media-educational discussion concerning the development of ‘visual literacy’.