Visions of the past: the graphic design student as historian

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper discusses our pedagogical approach to developing graphic design students’ historical consciousness, and our experiences implementing it at the University of Portsmouth, UK and Merz Akademie, Germany. Applying models of experiential learning (Moon, 2004, p. 114) in our planning and delivery, we developed a series of workshops in which students were encouraged to explore historical themes and, ultimately, to “[learn] by doing” (Race, 2010, p. 20) history. This research-informed teaching project emerged from a realization that, while much academic literature has considered the potential of illustration, film, photography and architecture as innovative conduits for historical narratives, little has been said with regard to graphic design’s possibilities in this area. We wanted to instill within graphic designers a desire to go beyond a simple appropriation (or “quoting”) of historical images and to foster an awareness of how their work can make meaningful contributions to wider debates on the past. From the poster to the website, from the communication campaign to the infographic, the graphic designer can have a significant role in shaping our understanding of history at a time when the past is subject to so much contestation.

The paper introduces the conceptual model upon which we based our teaching. Informed by the ideas of “postmodern” historians and thinkers (Linda Hutcheon, Hayden White, etc.), we discuss our term “Vistoriography” and how it enabled us to focus on three key issues: an alignment of theory and practice in the studio space; a focus on the role of the graphic designer as communicator of historical narratives; and the physical process of “designing” history. We then reflect on the successes and obstacles encountered thus far. Here, we discuss the differences – in terms of historical subjects, self-perception and political awareness – between UK and Germany students, and conclude by posing some questions for future development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAMPS Conference Proceedings Series
EditorsLaura Sanderson, Sally Stone
PublisherArchitecture Media Politics Society
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2021
EventDEC 2020 Conference: Teaching-Learning-Research: Design and Environments - Virtual conference hosted by Manchester School of Architecture, University of Manchester / Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Dec 20204 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameAMPS Conference Proceedings Series
ISSN (Electronic)2398-9467


ConferenceDEC 2020 Conference: Teaching-Learning-Research: Design and Environments
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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