WP1 explores the educational and instructional use of the magic lantern. It looks at its role within the context of pedagogical change in Belgian schools, at the range of purposes it fulfilled in the activities deployed by the Catholic Church, from school teaching to religious propaganda, and, at the other end of the spectrum, at the lantern practices of the Freemasons. The fourth project (creating a link with WP2) situates the lantern within the array of visual teaching aids and the visual media landscape in Belgium. All of the projects in WP1 are interrelated, which will guarantee its coherence.
This project studies the use of the magic lantern in Belgian schools, a subject about which little to nothing was known up to now, even though the projection of images in classrooms has remained an important element of teaching up to today. In order to gain insight into discussions surrounding the use of the lantern in education as well as its actual implementation in primary, secondary, and normal schools, an extensive analysis of Belgian educational journals, government publications, conference proceedings, handbooks and school archives has been conducted. This analysis shows that the introduction of the magic lantern to Belgian education was a long-winded process that started in the 1880s and led to a more widespread use of the new medium by the 1920s.
In order to find out what slide series were available to teachers, the project further focuses on the educational lending services that distributed slide series. In order to answer the question how lantern images were used in class, case studies on the teaching of history and geography shall be conducted. Numerous materials from various archives thus provide new insights into the day-to-day practices involving the magic lantern and the ways in which it changed Belgian education.
Slides used in a Geography class on rain forests from the collection of Heilig Graf School, Turnhout
There is a long tradition of Catholic clergy exploiting the impressive effect of the lantern in dramatic, even terrorizing performances. Abbé E.G. Robert from Liège, famous for his phantasmagorias, used the lantern's powerful influence to manipulate (large) audiences. The optical lantern became a powerful tool for educating adults and disseminating propaganda for the Church's various missions. Two important collections keep thousands of slides previously used in class (Holy Grave, Turnhout) and during other Church activities (Kadoc, Leuven). Their analysis will reveal the subjects considered important by the Catholic Church for the transmission of religious and moral traditions to form good Catholics and citizens. Numerous slides in these collections are self-made and reflect ongoing political discussions. They allow us to explore further the strategies applied by the clergy to propagate their views on social and political issues with the help of the lantern. The documentation available in the two collections allows us also to take into account the performative dimension of such presentations.
Different Belgian interest groups used the lantern to disseminate their convictions. Some operated publicly, trying to win an audience beyond their own community (church, missions, charities), others more discreetly, collectively or individually.
Many masonic slide sets, mostly of American origin, have survived and are accessible on the internet, but little is known about the way the Freemasons (and other spiritual groups) used them to educate aspirants. The study of their written and visual heritage should be able to provide information on the discourse that traditionally accompanied these slide projections.
Research on another aspect of the project, namely the use of optical lanterns in Belgian academies and universities with a masonic vocation, will be made possible thanks to the collections of plaques archived in the archives of the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Professors such as Émile Waxweiler, founder of the Solvay Institute of Sociology, or professor Jean Massart, creator of the botanical garden in Auderghem, used photographic glass plates to make it easier for students to understand their theories.
A third aspect will entail their comparison with Belgian Catholic institutions. The comparative analysis will aim to uncover similarities and differences, as well as the narrative strategies and symbolic rhetoric of the two groups in their struggles to gain and maintain their power within public sectors.
Nelleke Teughels investigates the projection lantern’s distinct contributions to and links with didactic practices and visual media use in schools at the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, due to its versatility and flexibility, the magic lantern was already a well-established medium for both entertainment and instructional purposes. In the first decades of the twentieth century new educational media such as film, episcopes for projection of opaque images and films fixes (or filmstrips, or diafilms, as they were also known) came on the market as alternatives to lantern slide projection. Each of these alternatives had its own advantages: episcopes allowed for the projection of a wide range of images that were often already available to the teacher (e.g. textbook images) or that were cheaper to acquire (such as postcards, hand drawn images or newspaper clippings), and in any case less fragile than lantern slides. However, during the entire period under consideration, the arrival of these alternatives would not seriously erode the lantern’s popularity for instructional purposes.
The medium’s endurance has been credited to its wide range of cultural functions (Kember 2009), but also to technical progress (e.g. the introduction of photographic images and electric illumination) and the medium’s particular dispositif. Nevertheless, by the end of the period under consideration, film had replaced magic lantern projections virtually everywhere except in the classroom. In order to better understand this shift in use of the magic lantern, this postdoctoral project will investigate its distinct contributions and its links with other visual media used in schools, namely film fixes, episcope projection and educational film. This project makes use of the concept of dispositif, that will allow us to better understand the intermedial relationships between various types of light projection and why some types of images were seen as fit for educational purposes while others were not.