Archiving the Educated Body

| November 10, 2010

Over at Teacher’s College Historical Photographs, the Gottesman Library is making available a number of archival images from Teachers College’s past.

450 photographs, taken by A. Fowler and others, document the architectural growth of the College and the academic and social life of its members over a century. They date from the late 1890′s through the 1980′s

Definitely worth an hour of your time. (I’ve already added the perfect image to my previous post on Zeno and the Art of Archery.)

If I may be so bold as to curate, I’ve collected here the images having to do with Physical Education, to see what we might glean.

Horace Mann School. Children In The Gym. Teachers College. (n/a, 1900-1950)

Horace Mann School. Children Exercising On The Roof. Teachers College. (n/a, 1900-1950)

Thompson Hall. Class Of Girls In The Gym. Teachers College. (1900-1950)

Thompson Hall. Class Of Boys In The Gym. Teachers College. (n/a, 1900-1950)

We should be careful, with such a small, and incomplete sample, to draw conclusions. But perhaps the photos are also telling in their similarity. At the very least, we might surmise that there is a consistency in the way in which the image of physical education is referenced. Students arranged to face forward on a grid displaying symmetrical postures that emphasize—even in the crouched version—an upright, splayed or even jutting stance. The instructor, like the camera, looking on. And in one instance, it appears, they are accompanied by a piano! Clearly other activities and modes were engaged in—one can see sports equipment and other specialized apparatus. And yet, these are the pictures that are taken, archiving the educated body.

If one were bold, one could include any number of images from the classroom, also laid out facing forward on the grid, students sitting at their desks, with the instructor overseeing. It is as if the images of physical education are allying themselves with these classrooms.

But what are we supposed to be seeing? What is the message that we are to learn or to affirm about education? About physicality?

What do you see?

These image are provided courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University.