9th ESHS Conference. Visual, Material and Sensory Cultures of Science. Bologna (Italy), 31 August – 3 September 2020

Material culture in the Positioning of National Science in Ibero-America: Natural History Museums, Scientific Cabinets and Educational Institutions

Relator y Comunicación: Víctor Guijarro 
Fecha: 2 septiembre 2020
Título: «The representation of Science, Body and Objects in Construction Kits and in the Active Education Movement: Tensions between Industrialists and Teachers in the Interwar Years» 

Abstract: After World War I, modular methods for educational purposes received a significant boost. These procedures were based on the provision of simple, standarized and interchangeable parts for the assembly of experimental devices. As it was thought, they were an ideal tool for the assimilation of scientific contents. One consequence of the adoption of these new systems was the partial abandonment of the old styles based on expensive and unmanageable devices. Besides, these renovating approaches reproduced the aspirations of the supporters of both active education principles and the discovery methods. Both –industrialists and educators– promoted a new way of relating the body to the basic materials that were part of the learning process. In this context, the acquisition of knowledge should take place through the mastery of mechanical skills, and by the search for suitable or novel combinations of the pieces available. However, there were differences between industrial approaches and those coming from teaching professionals. One of the objectives of scientific construction toys manufacturers was to distance themselves from the methods of official education. As Rebecca Onion states (Innocent Experiments) “In the United Kingdom during the interwar years, the manufacture of Constructions kits, which allowed children to make their own scientific instruments, sold the toys as a stopgap meant to fill in holes in the education system.” The communication is intended to point out the values pursued by the promotion of modular methods, the differences between industrialists and educators, and the results of the analysis of the advertising discourse associated to the firms of scientific kits in the Second Spanish Republic period. This will help us to see that slogans were used by companies to emphasize the playful, imaginative, creative and liberating possibilities of their designs in response to the supposedly boring, rote learning and authoritative instruction of official education.