Seeing double: how one period visualises another

Teaching History article

By Jane Card, published 1st December 2004

When pupils study interpretations or representations of the past which are neither from their own period nor from the period being interpreted/represented, they are having to employ sophisticated knowledge and skill. Jane Card describes this as ‘double vision’: the pupils must think about the period depicted (in this case the mid-Tudor period) and the period of the interpreter (in this case the early Victorian period and earlier 19th century influences upon it). When working on ‘interpretations of history’ in the National Curriculum sense, their aim is not primarily to critique an 1834 painting for being inaccurate; rather, they are trying to understand the intended message of that painting and to explore what it reflects of the values or preoccupations of the 1830s. To do this they have to distance themselves from their own 21st century setting and values in two ways: not only must they make sense of the relevant events, ideas and values of people in the mid-Tudor period, but also they must explore how and and why an 1830s artist chose to see those events through a very different lens. They discover that the artist has overlaid a Tudor story with ideas and values that belonged to his own age.

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