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‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ HES 2016

‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ HES 2016 

By Maria Williams

Maria is a doctoral student at UCL Institute of Education under the supervision of Professor Gary McCulloch. Prior to commencing my research she worked in London comprehensive schools for thirty years.

‘Sight, Sound and Text in the History of Education’ was the theme of the conference organised jointly by the UK and Australian& New Zealand History of Education Societies, held over the weekend of November 18-20, 2016 at the Abbey Hotel, Malvern, Worcestershire.  Stephen, Siân and Jodie organised a fantastic conference in a location with magnificent views.
The panel papers and keynote lectures which addressed the conference theme in relation to community or national identity and the arts were really relevant to my doctoral research which focuses on the educational practice of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini and her sisters 1880-1918 with Italian migrants.  Tom Woodin’s exploration of education and culture to engender a sense of belonging in the Co-operative movement and Susannah Wright’s paper showing the League of Nations Union’s particular mode of collective commemoration for Armistice Day prompted questions for me regarding the impact of Italian and Italian- American celebrations in Cabrini’s time.  At the panel on music education I also saw parallels with the Italian situation as I listened to Teresa O’Doherty’s on the impact of cultural and political nationalism on the teaching of music in Ireland during the first decades of Independence. Ross Purves addressed similar issues with regard to music provision relating to the ethnic background of pupils. This theme was a central strand of Ian Grosvenor’s keynote on Saturday evening which revisited his landmark 2007 publication, Assimilating Identities. His visual sources powerfully demonstrated the rich contribution of the ‘History of the Ordinary’ and education outside of schools to the field of History of Education. The need for further work in this field provides a challenge for me; one which I have been considering as an English historian researching Italian history. In the summer at ISCHE I also discussed the question in relation to writing Black History with three African- American historians in Chicago. I wonder how the overwhelmingly white membership of our own organisation impacts on our confidence to research and write Black History.
I contributed to the ‘Education and the Arts’ panel which was both transtemporal and transnational. Raymond McCluskey explored medieval insights about the arts which challenged some of my assumptions. Stephen Tomlinson’s paper demonstrated Comenius’ innovative use of illustrations in the seventeenth century and Luana Salvarani continued the theme of innovative pedagogy exploring Jesuit theatre in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In my paper I explored what Cabrini referred to as ‘ornamental competences’ demonstrating the opportunities these provided for women’s agency. My findings support those of Margaret Nash and Ann Marie Valdes challenging more assumptions.

I learnt a great deal more over meals and coffee. Like many colleagues I visited the adjacent Priory Church where I realised that our conference was continuing an educational tradition established on the site almost a thousand years before by migrants from continental Europe. This was my third annual conference. As a post-graduate researcher I have really benefited and recommend them to others.

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