Museums Of Art And Teachers Of History
( Originally Published 1913 )
My own interest in the cooperation between museums and educational work is very keen, and let me say, also, at the outset that I thank you again for reminding me that I am no artist but only a pedagogue.
Fifteen years ago the question was much agitated among teachers as to what an art museum could do for drawing and art instruction in high schools and in grammar schools, and it was something of an epoch when, in 1893, a national congress was held on the subject to enlighten and bring together people interested in the cooperation between the museums and the teachers of art and drawing. In those days much used to be said in pedagogic circles in regard to museums not being helpful to the public, not reaching the masses. As you know, in some places—for instance, at South Kensington—there was as a result of this complaint an immense deal of pains put forth to effect an interest on the part of the public in such things as domestic art. Some places have gone further yet, and say that this movement has been a very great success. So the museums and the schools have come together, in some places more than others, to be sure. Still there has been a great deal of the best kind of co-operation. I do not need to remind you of the movement which the Metropolitan Museum has led, organizing, as I believe it did in 1906, another congress which gave great stimulus to this kind of cooperation between the teaching of art and art museums. Today, as you know, there are many new devices unheard of ten or fifteen years ago. Then the purpose of a museum was simply to provide an esoteric and aesthetic mausoleum of pictures, open on certain days of the week to a few people, but now the museums desire to reach the largest number of people and do the greatest amount of good. Some museums provide trained guides—for instance, at the Boston Museum—who go around with visitors to explain things. The system, I believe, is also in existence in the Metropolitan Museum.
Some of the Western cities have actually gone so far as to invite the children to vote upon what new pictures the museum should buy. Toledo, Milwaukee, and several other Western cities have done this, the idea being that thus children have a greater interest in the museums and in art matters. In one of the cities the children are even allowed to determine by vote one picture each year to be added to the collection. Moreover, a few of the smaller museums in the West, as in Toledo, offer prizes each year for the best drawing by a school child, and there is an exhibit in the museum of the children's best drawings. There is also the movement to lend lantern slides and collections far and wide, slides illustrating methods of teaching, and comprehending almost everything included in the teacher's work. When I was in Paris the last time, they told me they had there five thousand different pictures, mostly lantern slides, I think, in circulation among the schools. In some of our own States the circulation of pictures and lantern slides is not confined to any certain city or cities, but extends throughout the State, so that I think we can say that the co-operation of the museums in that way has been most fruitful.
But our question today is more limited; that is, whether such methods can be employed by the museums and teachers, and can be as useful and go as far in the matter of history. Now, in regard to that I want to group my remarks under a few general heads.
First of all, let me speak as a psychologist, and remind you that there is a type of mind which we are in the habit of designating as the visual type of mind, which is particularly susceptible to form and color. Many psychologists classify minds into three main types: one that is auditory, that remembers words; one that is essentially visual; and one that is motor, but of this we do not need to speak now. It is very well made out that Americans, as a class, are rather more visual-minded than most other races, and perhaps more than any other race since the ancient Greeks. This characteristic is suggested, at least, by the contour of the long head. All the senses are highly developed, and there is unusual sensibility to and power of remembering color and form. Wherever you can teach the visual mind by means of illustrative apparatus, you have a strong ally in your work, and the type of mind exemplified in the American is the type which responds to that method of instruction. That is a point which, if this were a lecture on psychology, I should like to amplify, and perhaps spend the entire hour in performing various tests and experiments to confirm these general conclusions which might be of a good deal of interest to teachers.
It was, indeed, a great movement that Comenius, whom some call the Father of Modern Education, inaugurated, when he recognized that to give images makes things concrete and definite. His "Orbis Pictus" is one of the most potent inventions of education, and its pictures were constructed with remarkable ingenuity.
We have now another two-volumed edition of a book by Basedow which every teacher should read, constructed on the principles of Comenius. The work is intended to cover in pictures the whole range of human life: the marriage of the parents, and then the birth of the child, and every typical phase of his. life. After Comenius and Basedow came the object-lesson craze, and now we find that the eye actually stimulates the other senses. For instance, in experimenting with a Victor talking-machine, we find that while one can remember sentences in French and German when merely spoken by the machine, if the subject matter that is talked of is reinforced by a picture, the memory of that impression is very greatly enhanced. It can be remembered more quickly, and can be recalled after a longer period of time, and even though most of it is apparently forgotten and is beyond the reach of voluntary recollection, it can be relearned with greatly increased facility, showing that traces of it still remain, and showing the agency and operation of the eye, which is the point I want to impress upon you. This visual aid we have much neglected of late in our teaching, I think especially in the classics. I do not mean in the high schools alone, but in the colleges as well. There has been usually considerable difficulty in getting teachers interested in the power of illustration. A foreign visitor to our country some time ago said that it was incomprehensible to him how, up and down the length of this land, the teachers of Greek and Latin in our high schools and colleges could proceed with the equipment which they had at their disposal. They would have a few maps on the wall and possibly two or three busts and nothing more, although it is possible, without very great expense, to equip a class-room with models of Roman antiquities or with cuts of all the things essential to inspire the instruction, and in a sense transport the child back to ancient Greece and Rome. Let me say here parenthetically that I have been surprised to realize lately how effective apparatus of this kind is. We have been spending at our Children's Institute a few thousand dollars to see what could be done in a pedagogic museum, and we bought a lot of German colored charts (almost all these things are of German manufacture), Roman coins, disks, and various other antiquities. There are, perhaps, only a dozen of these charts on Rome, costing one dollar each. But these things vivify instruction so much that our college teachers have been using them habitually, and just now there is a rivalry between the high-school and college teachers as to which shall get the new ones first. Why this illustrative apparatus, which appeals with such cogency to the eye, has not been used by teachers in the large cities of the country I do not quite understand. Surely there is no place where it is quite so necessary, because the Greek and Roman languages are the deadest things there are, and there is not a person in the world now living, I suppose, who worships Jupiter, once believed to be the father of gods and men. This ancient culture has all to be revived and reconstructed by the scientific imagination alone. Some years ago classical teachers were very much impressed with the exhibit for teaching Roman antiquities which was displayed at the World's Fair in Saint Louis. There was everything in illustrations and models: the dining customs of the people, all of the details of the home life, and every other feature of Roman life—their houses, courts, theatres, forum, and everything else. That collection was the first of its kind. It is now in the Washington University at Saint Louis, and even a day spent there would do a great deal to give zest and animation to the teacher as well as to the pupil.
There is no time to go into detail on the subject which we are considering. In fact, I am not competent to do so, for I am not a classical teacher, but as a pedagogue it has been amazing to me to see, when the teachers of classics really avail themselves of all the accessible material of the character which the Germans call Anschauung, how very greatly it benefits the classes, and gives greatly emphasized efficiency to instruction in that domain. It seems to me that such aids to instruction are particularly necessary in regard to the past.
I have not the learning to go down through the ages and tell you what would be the ideal equipment of teachers of history if there were unlimited material at hand for their special use and service. An ideal collection does not exist, but those familiar with pedagogic literature know that such ideals are now seething in the minds of many progressive educators. I read some time ago that it was projected in Germany to have a model of ancient Rome under glass, I suppose on the model of Palestine, which we have at Chautauqua, though the school model of ancient Rome should be on a much larger scale. The idea was to do what the early teachers of classics attempted to do to the boys from the earliest days of the gymnasia; that is, literally to transport them to ancient Greece and Rome, to play Roman games, and to carry on all the conversation and exchange of ideas in Latin. Such ideals are very good. I do not know whether we shall have any such ideals in this country. Not often are superintendents, still less educators, bold enough, when they see a good thing, to take a forward step and grasp it. To my mind, one of the pathetic things about our American education is that we spend relatively too much money on these palatial high-school buildings. For, when it comes to equipment in the way of illustrative material, the money is all gone, although a high-school building, without apparatus, charts, diagrams, pictures, etc., is a ghastly thing. It is a body without a soul; it is a corpse.
When we realize the possibilities, my question is, why don't we somewhere make a be-ginning and show what art is able to do with all its very many resources? I think it is high time we had a committee to look over our entire educational scheme and see what can be done in the various departments to make things more anschaulich. The American mind does not run to problems so much as it does to vivid, clear images. That is what makes us inventive and progressive, and makes us observe the beauty of the short cut, of the "direct method," of "getting there" with the least expenditure of effort. I do not know that there is any definition of science I have heard repeated at the scientific meetings in this country which I think compares with the German definition, that science is the easiest and most effective way of thinking the largest things with the least effort.
Besides the various kinds of illustrative material of ancient history, which this and other museums are so rich in—art, tapestries, busts, illustrations, pictures, figures, etc.—there is another line of work that has interested me for many years. In a little country town where I lived—it must have been about twenty years ago—we had the good fortune to have one summer a rather prominent man who was connected with a large art institution in Baltimore. At his suggestion he and I went around and looked over all the attics and brought together all that could be lent to us to illustrate the early history of this old New England town, which at that time had a population of less than one thou-sand inhabitants. We got some looms and set them up, and all the apparatus of spinning yarn. We hired a room and equipped it fully.
We had collections of maps of the town, two or three old surveys, and copies of the charter. We had a lot of old text-books, as far back as we could get them. We had all the relics of the old town that we could possibly gather, and I think altogether, before we got through, we had over four thousand different labelled items in our list for teaching local history, with the idea that history begins at home and begins with rather definite things. This exhibition certainly did give great interest there to the whole topic of history, and there have been many things far better and far larger than that done elsewhere both in New England and in New York.
Everybody knows about the very interesting exhibit that Doctor Sheldon, of Deerfield, Mass.,—a man who is now over ninety years of age,—has been collecting all his life. In this collection is brought together everything from the old Indian days down. He has an old high-school building filled with these objects—old Indian fireplaces, and all the old cuts and illustrations, files of old newspapers, etc., so that you can go back two hundred years when you go through the museum and catch the true historical spirit.
It has been found lately that there is no good historic museum in the States of the Northwest Territory settled by the expedition of Israel Putnam, except the one at Marietta, Ohio, where he made his first stop. There a zealous professor wants to institute what may be called a historical museum, and the college has become the centre of a propaganda which is connecting the East and the West. New Englanders are not only improving the historical museum in the town from which Israel Putnam started, namely, Rut-land, Mass., but they are active in their support of the more elaborate museum at Marietta, and propose to wake up the historic sense, which seems to be rather lacking in this country as a whole, and particularly in the West, by giving the people tangible objects to which to attach their history lessons. The Marietta Institute has done a good deal of work for the schools in that county, and perhaps in Ohio generally.
A little of this work, too, we are trying to do with the Museum of the Massachusetts Historical Society. I hope that something is going to come in the way of lending some of its materials, in the shape of photographs, lantern slides, etc. So the method of teaching history seems to be drifting in the right direction, namely, to get more and more in touch with pictures and with old relics and objects of art that vivify to the child's mind historical events.
History badly taught is about the most mechanical subject in the world. If it is mere text-book cramming; if it is an abstract catalogue of names, dates, and battles; if it lacks the vital touch that makes personalities, in which children are extremely interested, stand out and glow, it can be made one of the deadest possible studies; on the other hand, with proper arrangement of details, it can be made one of the vitally interesting topics.
Now, in the third place, I want to speak of another movement along this line which, to my mind, is just now of burning interest. I feel that I am addressing chiefly teachers of history or those interested in that subject. Most of our text-books, until about fifteen years ago, ended back one or two administrations, or, if they came down to the last ad-ministration, everything in reference to that period was very faint and general, so that there was a hiatus between the end of the period actually treated in the history and the present day. That has been corrected to a greater or less extent, but now there is a movement which, to my mind, is the most interesting in the whole question of the pedagogics of history, which has not gone very far, but has great promise for the future. That is the method of beginning with the present and teaching history backward. I do not see why it is not just as logical to do that, and to pass from effect to cause, as it is to follow the stream down from cause to effect. I do not mean by that that the movement is likely to or should disparage or in any way make the interest in ancient history, or mediaeval history, or any other grade of history, less than it should be, but it should give the vital touch with the present that has been so lacking.
Perhaps I may illustrate this movement by telling you what I happened to hear by chance in a normal school in western Pennsylvania. I dropped in at the normal school and found a class on "The Gulf of Mexico." At first I hardly knew whether it was a lesson in history or in geography. It began with Florida, with a touch of the Everglades, pictures of the Everglades held up and passed around, and some views shown by the magic lantern. We took a hasty trip clear around from the Florida coast, by the Gulf, to the Mississippi and Mexico. The burning present questions were touched on, and there was a little touch of the geological history of the river, and plenty of history of men and events sandwiched in. It ended with a glance at the antiquities of Yucatan. I could not but marvel at it, as it seemed to me a masterpiece of history instruction. There was the vital present touch, not merely of past history, but of those effects of history which the teacher seemed to think were at hand, that really bore upon vital present interests. Afterward I asked this lady how she got up such an interesting and effective lecture. She said she had got it almost entirely from encyclopaedias and the monthly magazines, etc. She had spent about four years in getting together eight lectures of that type, and she was giving them in a condensed form, as she said, because there were continually visitors in the classroom and she wanted to show that course. It seemed to me that she was doing a most admirable thing.
When I have had the pleasure of talking to history-teachers, I have for years been rather stressing this point—that the present is the most vital time the world has ever seen. There are more problems to be solved and we are making history to-day far faster than it was ever made before probably, save in just a few great, critical periods of the world's history. Moreover, it is our day. There is the great question of Africa looming up. What is to be done? The Congo basin is about three-quarters the size of the United States. Africa is vastly larger than all of North America, and she has a vast population. There are more people to the square mile in Africa than in North America. What is to become of the people? Since the great land scramble culminating in 1897 all the nations seem to desire to possess colonies there. The Colonial Congress in England last year seemed to make some of these things stand out as the critical questions for the future to decide.
Then there is the Eastern question, China and Japan. Perhaps here I may mention a rather personal incident in our own institution, where a young man thoroughly trained in history undertook to teach in the usual way. He taught Greek, Roman, and mediaeval history, and then he covered the ground of American history, following the recommendations of the Committee of Seven. Finally it occurred to him, and he was encouraged in the thought, that that was not all that these young men who were going out into the world needed as a historical study. He thought there should be the vital present touch. He obtained leave of absence from the college for nearly a year, and later for a second time, and went to the Far East, Siberia, Japan, etc. He came home with every kind of picture and illustration he could get, and his teaching since has been a marvellous renaissance of history. He has introduced many new methods, and he has brought together now for three years at Clark University conferences on the Far East which have even influenced both our national policy and that of the other countries concerned. That is, he has not only taught history, but even helped to make history.
I think that most of our colleges will get into this method rather slowly—some three or four of the largest of them have allowed their history instructors lately to travel to the cities of present central interest, and to try to prepare young people for their future.
Out on the Pacific Coast lately I was told by a number of prominent people, President Jordan of the Leland Stanford University being one, that they believe modern history will have a fresh impetus dating from the opening of the Panama Canal in 1913. There will be a new bond of sympathy with all our South American neighbors, and it will be necessary for our students to know something about South America, and a little about the history of the different countries there. This is a thing which a few bright men are already posted on.
Once more, I suppose the North American Indians are a pretty important factor in history. They are not our ancestors and we never feel toward them as the modern Greek feels toward the ancient Greek, or the modern Italian toward the ancient Roman, from whom each believes himself descended. But the Indians were the aborigines; they are the natural link with the men of the Stone Age. The remarkable relics of art that have been recovered from the time the Indian Bureau was established down to the present time, the splendid faces of these men, their modes of life, which are the inspirations of every boy—all these offer some of the best and most concrete methods of stimulating interest in history. We have, of course, a great many people who are interested in Indians, but they do not often get together. We have, for in-stance, the admirable movement represented by the Lake Mohonk Conference for the Indian, but that represents the philanthropic side, and you will hardly ever hear from a single representative of the great Indian Ethnological Bureau, which is a fine institution, spending a million dollars a year in making scientific studies of the Indian. The people who desire to study the matter from the scientific point of view and the philanthropists who want to do the best thing possible for the Indian of today, should get together, and the most practical way to do that is through the teacher of history. When it comes to teaching the history of the Indian, do it in an effective way. That seems to me to be the moral of Frobenius's little book entitled "Aus den Flegeljahren der Menschheit." This book has over four hundred rather rough pictures of primitive life, the different aspects of it, how people lived before the historic period proper began. The author was connected with the Anthropological Museum in Berlin, and he wrote and collected these illus- trations for his own children, but when the publisher got hold of the book he found, to and behold, that he had struck a book of tremendous interest to all children, like the man who invented the Teddy bear, or the man who conceived the Boy-Scout movement. That book has gone throughout the world, and is, it seems to me, something that ought to be interesting to every child.
The whole field of history is so vastly large and intricate that the problem of the teacher of general history is almost incapable of solution. What period shall we teach? We can not teach it all, except in the most superficial way. Shall we hang up a chart and get a few crude diagrams that will show the names of kings and the periods of their reigns, with certain other titles, dates of battles, etc.? From this vast field it is imperative that we should select some period for intensive teaching and that we should also have some definite end in view.
If you will look over the educational literature, you will find that there are a great many different opinions as to what is the most profitable period to teach thus intensively: whether it is our own history; whether it is the history of the mother country, England; whether it is the mediaeval age, when our institutions were shaped; or whether it is the classical period. What can a high-school teacher do with so little time at his or her disposal in this vast field?
But when you come to ask why you teach history, that problem, to my mind, is more complex yet. Shall we teach history merely to inform the memory? Surely, that is not sufficient. Shall we teach history in order to give a man the technique for historical investigation? Shall we explore the old palimpsest documents of human experience? Shall we go to them and evaluate them and discuss the methods of Droysen and make it essentially an intellectual training? Or shall we teach children those things they need to know to be good citizens? Shall we have civics or politics as the chief end in view? It seems to me that here we have an ascending order of value, and that the last is higher than the first. But, to my mind, there is only one goal in teaching history, which is higher yet; and that is the moral end. Most of the pupils in our schools will not be writers of history, most of them will not be even great scholars in history, and the best and highest things they will get out of it are the examples of heroism, of patriotism, of self-abnegation, of the highest of all civil and religious virtues. So I believe that above all the other goals of teaching history in the grammar course and in the high school, and even in the colleges, should stand the moral goal. The great crises of history have been made by men who staked their lives on something which they believed to be of such supreme importance that they would die for what they lived for, and to inculcate enthusiasm for their virtue is, I believe, the chief goal in reviving their deeds.
Our histories now, the best of them, seem to be written very largely with a political end in view, but if it be true that moral virtues are really supreme, then it follows that the highest goal, which includes all the others—honesty, integrity, thoroughness of investigation in preparing for a lesson or in rendering a piece of history—is included in, and culminates in, the moral inspiration that children get from history.
So it seems to me that where art comes in and does its most idealizing work is in gilding the gray acts of history with a little touch of that "light that never was on sea or land" by showing how great men felt and thought, by revealing the higher motives of their acts, and by anticipating a little the highest and best motives and thought of the future so that the students of history will themselves be infected with these ideals and will themselves do good when opportunity offers. If this, indeed, be the best goal, then the whole field of art, which is itself devoted to the idealization of life, is apropos and ought to be a part of the armament of the teacher of history.
The final and the largest view, it seems to me, that we can take on this subject is that, glorious as history is, marvellous as is the progress that we find from savagery up to civilization, from arbitrary and tyrannical governments up to the rule of the people and the possession of liberty throughout the world, nevertheless the greatest lesson that we can possibly get from all this past history is the knowledge that the best things have not happened yet, and that therefore the best history has not and cannot yet be written.
We do not need to be thorough-going evolutionists in the sense that Huxley was, who used to declare that man today is only the tadpole of the archangel which he is to be; we do not need to be the disciples of Darwin or any fanatics of evolution. We only need to look back and see what man has been and what he has become, and what, despite all the vicissitudes and set-backs, the drift of things is, in order to realize that the optimist must be right when he insists that there is to come a day of the superman when moral ideals and a purer type of citizenship and of devotion to public good are to prevail in the world. Thus the final sources of inspiration for teachers and artists are not so very far apart. The teacher of history must see in the drift of things something that is ideal, and it is also this ideal that the artist seeks to embody. I cannot but feel, therefore, that in this movement which you teachers and the directors of this great art museum represent, of getting a rapport between teachers of history and the precious treasures here, you are in the line of one of the very best modern educational tendencies.
Who knows but that when man, who is now in the gristle, shall have become complete in some far-off future, even the most ideal present creations of art hung in great galleries like these may have become so realized that they will be only plain photographic reproductions of life in that great day when our bodies and our virtues shall fully match up to the standards now only prophetically anticipated by artists?