This past summer, we learned about the discovery of botanical wall charts at Randolph College in Virginia. Uncovered in the attic of the science building, the charts became the focus of a six-month exhibition at the Maier Museum of Art.
Today we learn more about not just botanical wall charts, but educational wall charts in general. The history of educational wall charts is revealed in the beautiful new book, The Art of Instruction: Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th Centuries by Katrien Van Der Schueren, a lifelong collector of educational charts.
As we learned from curator, Lydia Kirchner, wall charts became popular teaching devices when the growth of the student population in Germany exceeded the number of available teachers. The large visual aids helped teachers communicate with their large classes. The charts were created without text intentionally so teachers could present information as needed. Since the charts were void of descriptive text, the charts had to tell their own stories and this is exactly what they did. Charts did more than present images of morphological structures. They told stories about life cycles, species-specific behaviors and relationships between species (Van Der Schueren, 2011).
The popularity of wall charts declined as class size declined and with the publication of illustrated textbooks and the creation of presentation tools like the slide projector (Van Der Schueren, 2011). Charts were taken off classroom walls, placed in storage and sat in the dark for years, just like the charts at Randolph College.
Van Der Schueren tells the fascinating story about how the wall charts of the late 1800s were created by painter Gottlieb von Koch (Ernst Haeckel’s assistant), college director Dr. Friedrich Quentell and teacher Heinrich Jung. The charts of Koch, Quentell and Jung are still in print today. Most of the charts have been updated and are available from Hagemann Educational Media who purchased the rights to Jung-Koch-Quentell wall charts in the 1950s when the original distributor went out of business. Most of Hagemann’s revised wall charts are featured in The Art of Instruction. Also featured are images of Danish and French educational charts in their original condition (what a treat!).
Each page in The Art of Instruction showcases either a botanical or zoological wall chart. More than pretty paintings of flowering plants, the 71 botanical wall charts touch on several topics in botany. They also tell stories about algae, fungi and gametophyte and sporophyte generations. Jung, Koch and Quentell not only highlight the gross morphological features of plants in their charts, but address plants at the cellular level too. This same approach was taken with the zoological charts they created. More than paintings of animals and skeletons, the zoological charts explain biomechanics, organ systems, embryology, comparative zoology, avian morphology, insect life cycles and even how trichina worms embed themselves in muscle fiber.
While viewing this book, it is great fun to identify as many concepts as possible when studying each chart. You can “test” yourself by comparing your observations with the keys written for each Jung-Koch-Quentell chart. Keys accompanying 78 of the botanical and zoological wall charts in the book are included in the appendix.
There is much to learn from the vintage charts in The Art of Instruction. History aside, they show how biological concepts can be described in a limited space and without the use of words. They serve as beautiful examples of how to teach less, better.
The Art of Instruction: Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20 Centuries