A Piece of Earthenware from an Object Lesson Box, ca. 1850, Museum of Things - Werkbundarchiv, Berlin, photo: Armin Hermann.

Ann-Sophie Lehmann will present at the Museum Conversations Seminar on Tuesday, April 28, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “The Museum as a ‘School of Things’: Objects and Their Pedagogical Promise since Comenius.”

As part of the didactic turn in early modern Europe, real world objects were foregrounded as ideal teaching materials. Johan Amos Comenius—famous for having his Latin primers illustrated with pictures—argued that a school should have a collection with those objects that pupils were not able to observe in everyday life. These were to be used in teaching, because words and images were merely substitutes for the real things in the world and only a complete sensory perception of the latter could impress real knowledge onto pupils’ minds. Following this philosophy, some German schools installed educational cabinets that exhibited objects and models in order to convey Realwissen. Over the next centuries, the ambition to teach through a direct engagement with the environment became a hallmark of educational reform movements from Pestalozzi all the way to John Dewey, who, like Comenius, imagined a museum at the center of his model school. Recently, the pedagogical promise of objects has made a comeback in educational theory, informing object-based teaching and learning; often in close collaboration with museum collections. This talk traces the lineage outlined here, wonders about the regular return of things in education, questions the pedagogical imaginary of access to the “real”, and asks if and under which circumstances the pedagogical promises of things might be fulfilled.

Ann-Sophie Lehmann is chair of art history & material culture at the University of Groningen. She recently published Lessons in Art. Art, Education, and Modes of Instruction, ed. with E. Jorink & B. Ramakers, Leiden 2019. For an overview of her publications and activities, see https://www.rug.nl/staff/a.s.lehmann/.