The problem of missing materials that I have discussed in previous posts has led me to think of creative ways to investigate the education of students. In my November post, I looked at the idea of negative space and how one might use this concept to get an idea of the shape of the problem at hand. However, a focus on texts tends to amplify this problem, often leaving us unable to fill in the blanks. Apart from looking at the records of lecturers and departments, which provide information about lecture topics or class lists (and sizes), there are also numerous physical resources and spaces within teaching that allow us perhaps more of a glimpse at the student experience. This practical element of teaching is often overlooked by a focus on textual sources alone.
So what sort of non-textual sources am I talking about? Well apart from anatomical models, in my context this can be extended to specimens, wall posters, textbook images, and blackboard diagrams. However, more than this, the physicality of the space in which teaching occurs is vital to understanding the student experience, and particularly in mediating their interaction with these materials. The resources used in teaching as well as the spaces for teaching can both expand and limit the learning of students.
In investigating the resources and spaces of teaching, my work has taken two avenues. The first involves using textual sources to piece together a more physical and material past; using purchase records and departmental inventories to determine the objects available to students in general. The second narrows this first list to who is able to use what and when (and where).
This second approach often involves practicalities and departmental politics; for example, who holds the cupboard key and how difficult is it to obtain? Which rooms are the models and skeletons kept in? How long does the lecturer leave diagrams on the blackboard? Are materials able to be moved between classrooms? All of these questions contribute to building the picture of student experience which helps me to fill in information around the missing student notes; what would they have needed to write down and what would they be able to study later in more depth?
This visualisation of the classroom (in both ways) gives a picture of the ‘spatial geography’ of the anatomical education of students, a concept from archaeology that can help us historians better understand physical rather than textual history. It helps me to think of my work in this area as an archaeological dig- if I uncovered these classrooms without any other information, what would I think the about positioning of these items in relation to one another?
The investigation of these spaces brings me back to my original thesis objectives (see my earliest posts) surrounding visual representation in the anatomical classroom. This helps me to answer some of the bigger questions of my thesis about how the is body depicted in different mediums and how these mediums impact upon each other.
Today’s blog post is presented without images to protect the ownership rights of picture holders. For visual reference please see (as an example) the photographs of spaces of anatomical education on the Burns Archive website which have not been reproduced here without permission.