Pieter Verstraete – ISCHE History of Education


Bodies, bodies, bodies, three provocations Provocation one : bodies Bodies have always intrigued the human
being – and this in divergent ways. Bodies have been painted
on the walls of prehistoric caves. Bodies have been tortured and incarcerated. Bodies have been painted themselves and trained to
perform particular activities like giving birth to a child, sitting still in order to listen for hours to a master
or handling a machine that produces cars. Bodies continuously have
been framed in time and space, but they also have tried to escape
those very same frames; to jump out of the ordinary and mingle in new ways. Bodies have been recalcitrant and revolutionary. Bodies have been all of that and much more. Since a very long time now historians have become
intrigued by this swirl of limbs and chests, hands and legs, trunks and heads, feeds and backs,
toes and eyes, skins and breasts, genitals and brains. Historians have been very successful in
analyzing this vertiginous amount of movements, gestures, postures, inclinations and outlooks. All of their hard, meticulous
and above all scientific work lead to an often disturbing image
of what has been done to bodies and what bodies have been doing. Their work lead to written, printed and
digital texts where the shivering, belching, copulating, studying, working, playing, weeping and gazing bodies were fixed to paper,
to a particular constellation of pixels. Undoubtedly a lot has been gained by
plunging ourselves in the history of bodies. But perhaps also something has
been lost, something important. The body itself. Provocation two : bodies Since a long time historians of education
have been intrigued by bodies. Abnormal bodies for instance,
and how these have been educated, institutionalized, transformed and disciplined. These studies have often resulted
in thought provoking presentations held in marvelous and breath taking conference rooms located at the third floor of a monumental building; they have often ended up in elaborate powerpoint
presentations that contained wonderful images representing the rich diversity of how
bodies have been treated in our past; our studies also have led to
well-structured and revealing videos that nowadays can go viral on the internet and
are capable of reaching all people interested or at least almost all people interested. Most often unintentionally it is the sound of our voices, the color and shape of the images we project, the location used in order to present that ends up
in some bodies not being able to understand, not being capable to grasp, not being gifted to follow. It of course does not stop here. One could say it only starts here, for what about all those bodies
that for whatever unclear reason have been born in places where there is no
unrestricted access to online repositories, digitalized libraries or expensive book chapters
published by well-known publishing houses. What about the bodies who for one
reason or another cannot gain access to knowledge by typing, clicking,
pushing buttons, scanning screens? In short, what about the less privileged bodies, the bodies that look, act, smell, taste and
sound different than the ‘normal’ ones. Is it possible to makes sense of these bodies
and how can we spread this bodily sensitivity? Provocation three : bodies Most of the time the historian’s body
has been successful in accessing archives, in moving around the world
looking for traces of bygone events, in listening to the memories of other bodies, in touching the remains of artefacts. For a very long time the innumerable
movements of the historian’s body found peaceful spots behind a wooden desk. Flanked by packed book shelfs
the historian’s movements where fixed on the pages of small note book, they where completed by the
sound of a pencil being sharpened, the smell of a new book being printed. For a very long time the historian’s movement
seem to still have the time to come to an end; to come to terms with the historian’s mind; to look out for the right place to crystalize; to take the time to come to fruition. But what if bodies do not have that time anymore, when bodies are relentlessly urged
to speed up their movements, to type faster, to think quicker, to swipe
more rapidly, to scan speedier. What if someone would stand up and declare
– not that history would have ended – but that time itself would have disappeared. Jumping from pages to screen,
from books to smartphones, from pencils and ink to smartphones undoubtedly
contains many hopeful promises, but what when while we’re jumping
time falls out of our pockets?

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