School Photos and their Afterlives: Assimilation, Exclusion, Resistance

Appearing very early in the history of photography and pervasive throughout the world, school-class photos, like report cards and diplomas, confirm group belonging and exposure to a process of educational acculturation and socialization.

Beginning with images of 19th and early 20th century schools intended for the “civilization” of indigenous and African American children in North America, children in colonial Africa, and Jewish children in Habsburg-ruled Central Europe, the use of photography in documenting the assimilationist ideologies of schooling will be examined.  In addition school photos from the 20th century that document the failures of assimilation – state violence against Jews, blacks and other persecuted populations – will be studied. Throughout this project there will be engagement in the critical re-framing of school photographs by contemporary artists who expose school photography’s ideological role within political climates that, in all too many places, shifted radically from emancipation and integration to exclusion, persecution, displacement, and genocide.

Project leader(s):
  • Marianne Hirsch (Columbia) and Leo Spitzer (Dartmouth College)

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