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A History of Everyday Things in England: Illustrators of mid-twentieth-century social history books

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The illustrated books considered in this article present histories of everyday life and align with the genre of history writing that had existed at least since the nineteenth century, of women documenting the domestic sphere, challenging the hegemonic and dominant narratives of history and presenting ‘Englishness’ instead within the practices and objects of the everyday. The use of illustrations to evoke empathy, describe the detail of ordinary lives and offer graphic interpretations of data shows an engagement with the pedagogical possibilities of visual literacy in schoolbooks, allied to developments in the state school system at the time. The books demonstrate a variety of approaches towards the function of illustration in textbooks for children. These approaches include presenting ‘picturesque’ narratives, promoting imaginative empathy through the use of contempareneous visual source material, and encouraging critical thinking through pattern recognition in the assessment of information graphics. The article considers the visual mode in each book and maps its production onto social, political and ideological contexts of mid-twentieth-century England, offering feminist perspectives on the notion of history writing, scholarship and pedagogy.

Keywords: feminist histories; history writing; illustration; isotype; modernism; popular scholarship; print culture; social history

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Manchester Metropolitan University

Publication date: April 1, 2017

More about this publication?
  • Illustration is a rapidly evolving field with an excitingly broad scope. Despite its cultural significance and rich history, illustration has rarely been subject to deep academic scrutiny. The Journal of Illustration provides an international forum for scholarly research and investigation of a range of cultural, political, philosophical, historical, and contemporary issues, in relation to illustration. The journal encourages new critical writing on illustration, associated visual communication, and the role of the illustrator as visualizer, thinker, and facilitator, within a wide variety of disciplines and professional contexts.

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