A fascinating glimpse into the use of the school atlases in the Geography Textbooks Collection

When external reschool atlases:  geography textbooks collectionsearchers visit the Newsam Library to view the Special Collections, I often have the privilege of finding out about their research. It is almost always a historian of education that is aware of our collections but in this case, our guest blogger, Dr. Jasper M. Trautsch, is not a educationist though the use of educational materials is an important source for his research.   He is a post-doctoral researcher funded by the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) to conduct research in the U.K. and in France.  Dr. Trautsch was alerted to our collection by another recent external visitor, Dr.  Lars Mueller, Research Fellow at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI), who used history textbooks from the IOE’s Historical Textbooks Collection for his research.  We are aware that the fame of our wonderful Special Collections are spreading via the web, judging by the number of hits the IOE LibGuide on Special Collections is receiving but it is encouraging to see the process working by word of mouth too.  Dr. Trautsch writes about his research and the use of school atlases from the IOE’s Geography Textbooks Collections below:

In my research project, I examine the processes of mental remapping that took place in Western Europe and North America after 1945 in the context of the escalating Cold War. In particular, I trace how the concept of the West – the notion that (Western) Europe and North America formed a unique “civilization” that was threatened by a hostile “East” – came to shape Western Europeans’ and North Americans’ spatial perceptions.

Among other things I look at world maps and maps of Europe in school atlases between 1945 and 1960 to find out how they changed over the course of time to visually promote the idea that there was a geographically identifiable “West” and “East” and that North America and Western Europe were part of the same “sphere,” for example by artificially contracting the territorial expanse of the Atlantic Ocean or by using different colors for Western and Eastern European countries.

The collections of the Institute of Education have been very important for my research, since they contain a large number of school atlases of the period under investigation. It was particularly revealing to study the various editions of particular atlases series to trace subtle changes in their representation of Europe and the world between the 1940s and 1950s. My research in the library of the Institute of Education has also been very rewarding, since – unlike in the Maps Collection of the British Library – I was able to make digital photographs of selected materials. My particular thanks go to Nazlin Bhimani who has been tremendously helpful in settling in, locating the relevant materials, giving me access to the special collections on short-notice, and pointing me to other archives, which might contain further school atlases and other relevant maps.

As is evidenced from Dr. Trautsch’s description of his research, historical textbooks are a valuable primary source for interdisciplinary research.   Keith Crawford in his 2003 editorial  on the role and purpose of textbooks for the International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research (3:2), confirms this:

…textbooks are cultural artefacts and in their production and their use inside classrooms confront a range of issues to do with ideology, politics and values which in themselves function at a variety of different levels of powers, status, and influence.  Embedded in textbooks are narratives and stories that nation states choose to tell about themselves and which, it has been decided, offer a core of cultural knowledge which future generations are expected to both assimilate and support; to think about the context of textbooks and how they are authored, published and used is to think about the purpose of schooling (p. 5).

Textbook analysis therefore tells us about more than what is printed on the page – the visual elements in a textbook are just as important.  The textbook really is a complex piece of evidence providing insights into social, political, economical contexts.

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
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One Response to A fascinating glimpse into the use of the school atlases in the Geography Textbooks Collection

  1. Pingback: A glimpse into the Historical Textbooks Collection (Newsam Library, UCL Institute of Education)

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