Symposium report

Marta Brunelli (Department of Education, Cultural Heritage and Tourism, University of Macerata, Macerata, Italy)
Juri Meda (Department of Education, Cultural Heritage and Tourism, University of Macerata, Macerata, Italy)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 6 June 2016


Brunelli, M. and Meda, J. (2016), "Symposium report", History of Education Review, Vol. 45 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Symposium report

Article Type: Symposium report From: History of Education Review, Volume 45, Issue 1.

A new historiographical trend in the history of education: proposals from the International Symposium School Memories in Seville

On 22-23 September 2015, the International Symposium School Memories. New trends in historical research into education: heuristic perspectives and methodological issues took place at the University of Seville (Spain). The event was organised by the History of Education research group of the same university, in collaboration with the Centro di documentazione e ricerca sulla storia dei libri di testo e della letteratura per l’infanzia of the University of Macerata (Italy), the Centro de estudios sobre la memoria educativa of the University of Murcia (Spain), the Centro internacional de la cultura escolar (CEINCE) in Berlanga de Duero (Spain) and the Museo Pedagógico of the Faculty of Education at Seville University. The Programme Committee was headed by Cristina Yanes Cabrera (University of Seville) and Juri Meda (University of Macerata); the International Scientific Committee – consisting of more than 30 representatives of the international community of historians of education – was chaired by Agustín Escolano Benito (CEINCE) and Antonio Viñao Frago (University of Murcia).

The international call for papers – disseminated since September 2014 through journals, social media, mailing lists and websites of historical-educational societies, and closed on 31 December, 2014 – collected 186 proposals from all over the world. After a rigorous selection, 70 proposals were accepted: 30 for the session individual memory, 32 for the collective memory and eight for the policies and places of memory. The high-rejection rate (62 per cent) was necessary in order to adhere to the scientific aim of the call, and to provide the intended reflection with strong epistemological ground. As to the provenance, 56 per cent of the proposals arrived from Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Portugal), 14 per cent from Latin America (Brazil and Mexico), 21 per cent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Serbia), 6 per cent from France and only 3 per cent from other countries (Australia and the USA). The North-European, North-American and Australasian scientific communities were under-represented but this phenomenon was not due to the selection process (since 40 per cent of the rejected proposals came from Southern-European countries), but rather to a lack of interest in a research topic that, on the contrary, has experienced a growing interest among scholars from the Latin-American and Iberian world.

Over the last 15 years, in fact, these communities have accepted the innovative heuristic proposals formulated in several pioneering works by Agustín Escolano, Antonio Viñao Frago and Pierre Caspard, hence the flourishing line of research of the school memory. Paradoxically, minor attention was paid to the aspect that would have required fewer new interpretive paradigms or methodological hybridizations, i.e. the school commemorative policies (explored by Caspard and Viñao). On the contrary, an increasing number of scholars began investigating individual school memories as well as material school objects, intended as sources from which factual data and information can be derived – which demonstrates that the scientific community is more receptive towards the study of school memory as a means to decipher what has been defined as the “black box of schooling”. School memory, in fact – based both on empirical culture (the school experience) and material culture (the school heritage) alike – seems able to unveil the real school practices (i.e. not “normalised” by legislation, curricula or pedagogical theories) that took place in classrooms, even though forgotten or not documented in the official chronicles but nevertheless historically attested (such as corporal punishment and other educational taboos).

With regard to the session individual memory (chaired by Antonio F. Canales Serrano), the presented papers focused on particular sources, such as autobiographies and diaries (cf. the contributions by Nadejda Petrova Aleksandrova; Maja Nikolova; András Németh and Imre Garai; Maria Cristina Morandini; Anna Ascenzi and Elisabetta Patrizi; Kira Mahamud and Ana Badanelli) and oral sources (such as the contributions by Tom O’Donoghue; Vincze Beatrix; Beata Topij-Stempińska; Annemarie Augschöll Blasbichler; Fabio Targhetta; Alberto Barausse, Rossella Andreassi and Valeria Viola). Particularly notable were the papers concerning the inquiry launched between 1947 and 1948 by the Institute of Education of the University of Budapest, which aimed to analyse the careers of outstanding figures who reported their personal memories in statistical forms (Éva Szabolcs and Erzsébet Golnhofer); and the Brazilian memory book studied by Cleide Maria Maciel de Melo.

If individual memories are quite familiar sources to historians, in the session policies and places of memory (chaired by Joaquim Pintassilgo) the various contributions identified new sources for defining how the memory of state education and the teaching profession was promoted over time by various institutions. The commemoration of meritorious officers/teachers was examined through epigraphs (Juan Ruiz González), odonyms (Aída Terrón Bañuelos) and school buildings’ names: these were analysed by Mirella D’Ascenzo by cross-checking municipal resolutions, official speeches, and finally the scenography set up during schools’ opening ceremonies – the latter topic was also explored by Ramona Caramelea for Romanian schools between 1864 and 1914. Teachers’ commemorations were investigated through obituaries published in Italian educational periodicals between 1861 and 1961 (Roberto Sani and Anna Ascenzi), or headstone epitaphs in Slovenian villages cemeteries (Branko Šuštar). A study was also presented on the prizes awarded by the Italian Ministry of Education in the period between Unification and Fascism (Alberto Barausse and Valeria Miceli); finally, the “places of school memory” – to paraphrase Pierre Nora – have been taken into account, represented by school museums, musealized schools, historic schools and the so-called sancta sanctorum of national education: e.g. the building where Maria Montessori established her first House of Children, or the rural school where Mario Lodi put the principles of the cooperative education movement into practice (Juri Meda).

The third session was dedicated to the school collective memory, perhaps the most challenging research thread, and which can be defined in two ways: first, the individual school experience perceived as part of a collective experience – e.g., recognised in a school relic observed in a museum, or recognised in other biographical narrations, etc.; and second, the representation of school of the past offered by cultural industry, which instils indelible stereotypes in collective imaginary. If individual memories can be studied individually, or compared with each other, the collective memory can be studied only as a process, since it is a social reconstruction of the past resulting from the fusion of the “experienced school of the past” (recollected by people who were protagonists), with the “imagined school of the past” (recollected by people who read or heard about it). In this meaning, collective memory genetically stems from a collective imagination made up of symbolic material. This can derive from the heritage of a community, as well as from new cultural formations, e.g. produced by the cultural industry or the world of information and communication. If, for example, we wish to understand how pedagogical Activism was represented in a comedy movie, we must also consider the related stereotypes in vogue at the time, which can be retraced in popular culture, literature or television broadcasts, but also in advertising, newspapers and magazines.

However, the collective memory of school can be useful to explore another possible research thread: the development of social perception of the teaching profession and the educational system. Studying how schooling and teaching processes were represented over time, could not only offer a real socio-cultural perspective on this historical phenomenon (the school “seen from the outside” rather than “from the inside”), but would also help to explain some historiographical burdens still weighing on the school archetype. A very first systematic research on the collective memory of the school, in fact, would reverse the perspective from which to consider the school phenomenon in its historical dimension, and would disclose the real social meaning of the school: not only that determined by cultural superstructures imposed by the ruling classes and perpetuated through a specific policy of memory, but also the social significance based on the stereotypes most commonly widespread throughout each society and historical period.

The papers presented in the session collective memory (chaired by Simonetta Polenghi) particularly focused, on the one hand, on the representation of the school of the past in films and documentaries (Simonetta Polenghi; Paolo Alfieri and Carlotta Frigerio; Anna Debe; Despina Karakatsani and Pavlina Nikolopoulou; Elena Kalinina) and, on the other, on various kinds of school pictures. In this regard, remarkable studies have been carried out on the international circulation of nineteenth century school-themed prints and engravings, and how this affected the building of a “transnational visual memory of the school” (Sjaak Braster and María del Mar del Pozo Andrés); on the role played by twentieth century postcards representing schools in structuring a collective school memory in Spain (Antonio Viñao and María José Martínez Ruiz Funes); on the more recent use of historical school photos in the production of popular commercial books in France (Marie-Elodie Valat and Sylvain Wagnon). The contribution by Marta Brunelli – focused on sharing photographic school memories on social media – is placed between the analysis of the “mnemo-genetic” function of school images, and the study of processes of redefinition and collectivisation of the school memory on the web – as also happens, for example, in the school-themed encyclopaedic entries of Wikipedia (analysed by Georgina Maria Esther Aguirre Lora, Gianfranco Bandini and Stefano Oliviero), or within virtual spaces of collectivisation of school memoirs like Facebook (Daniel Escandell Montiel). Of great interest were the speeches dedicated to institutional publishing which aimed to communicate a certain public image of education: such as the late nineteenth century publications commemorating the founding anniversaries of Italian vocational schools (Valeria Viola); or the editorial tradition of the memorias escolares (yearbooks) published by twentieth century Spanish religious colleges, and connected with the so-called “pathologisation of memory”, a concept describing the careful pre-selection of memories to be included in yearbooks in order to induce in alumni and families a predetermined collective memory (Paulí Dávila Balsera and Luis Maria Naya Garmendia). Noticeable was the lack – except for Christiane Connan-Pintado’s work on school representation in French children’s literature – of specific research on changes in social perception of the school and the teaching profession through literature, a significant component of the cultural industry affecting the construction of the collective school memory.

Marta Brunelli and Juri Meda