Teaching Before Photography

Question: What kinds of visuals did natural science teachers use before photographs were available?

Answer from Jennifer Vess, Brooke Dolan Archivist: Visuals have always been extremely important for teaching natural science subjects. Today, in addition to specimens, scientists and professors have access to imaging technologies that include color photography, photography at the microscopic level, and scanning techniques that delve inside an animal. But during the 19th century, professors of natural sciences had to rely on other techniques, particularly if they wanted their students to see color or examine the structures of microscopic organisms without the direct use of microscopes.

The Academy has a collection (Coll. 532) of zoological teaching charts that came to us from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. These charts were drawn by Dr. Joseph Leidy and his students. They were used not only by Leidy but also by his successors to teach zoology well into the 20th century. The charts cover a wide range of subjects from malacology to diatoms to parasites, showing the microscopic in large detail and tracing the inner workings of animal life. All images from Academy Archives Coll. 532.

Chart of the inner structure of a snail


Archival Illustration
Chart of Trichina spiralis, probably the parasite Trichinella spiralis, depicting the male and female and the parasites inside a host
Archival Illustration
Hand-drawn Dictyopodium trilobum, a type of zooplankton

This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of Academy Frontiers.

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