In 2016 Peter Felten, Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Elon University, wrote, “Our students live in a highly visual world, where images are fundamental in shaping their understandings of history before they ever enter our classrooms.” This observation prompted me to create a series of exercises that introduce students to general visual literacy skills in the History classroom. These exercises aim to help students use visual sources to make evidence-based interpretations of the past with rigor and efficacy. In this presentation, I focused on images of past plagues since the recent proliferation of plague-related memes, GIFs, and images reproduced on the web has made evident the critical role that images play in shaping students’ interpretation of historical events in today's digital world. Over the last eight months, several articles have been published about past plagues and their relation to COVID-19. Many of them enlisting plague images to help reconstruct, interpret, and retell historical narratives in an engaging, visceral, and relatable way. Many of these articles use images as visual aids to help modern audiences envision the disease’s virulent nature and its devastating consequences on the human experience. However, most of these images only depict death or dying victims and communicate an overall feeling of hopelessness, which presents a one-sided interpretation of the past. Plague images have a remarkably rich iconography, and accurate readings of these images could deepen students’ understanding of the historical past.
Plague, COVID-19, Visual Literacy
Arts and Humanities | Curriculum and Instruction | European History | History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Medieval Studies | Renaissance Studies
Fostano, Katherina, "Reading Plague Images: Visual Literacy in the History Classroom" (2020). Developing Pedagogy Graduate Student Showcase. 2.