Hidden gems on camera

7th April 1995 at 01:00
The People's Century: a CD-Rom Resource for History For Multimedia PC Collins Educational Pounds 125.

Gareth Davies on the advantages of viewing photographs on CD-Rom.

Photographic CD-Rom collections aimed at the history classroom are appearing in abundance from both software houses and traditional publishers. We cannot be surprised at this, for it is relatively easy to throw a few hundred photographs on this new medium and call it a useful resource for history lessons.

The easiest century for plundering is our own, where photographic libraries have thousands of images that will never be seen where space costs real money, in a history textbook.

CD-Rom makes hidden gems not only affordable, but available in a multitude of ways. It enables the selection of sources to be controlled by the teacher, or even better, the student as part of the method of history. In a crowded market however, how can the history teacher decide what is the best buy?

Quality and distinctiveness are two criteria to be considered, but the most important is material that supports classroom methodology. In this CD-Rom, Collins has managed to achieve all three.

Containing 1,000 pictures from the Hulton Deutsch collection, the photographs can be retrieved through three main avenues - by decade, place or theme; or conducting a search on a keyword index or text explanations that accompany individual pictures. Once your selection is made you can view them six at a time. Double-clicking on a picture takes you to its information page where the picture is displayed and a short explanation provided. It is then possible to access your selection sequentially through on-screen buttons.

All these photographs have been carefully chosen and although the CD contains many famous illustrations, there are some surprises too.

What makes this CD-Rom stand apart is the analysis section. Here students are encouraged to use the photographs to develop important historical skills.

Concepts such as the reliability of evidence and usefulness of photographic sources are discussed on screen with examples pulled from the photographic collection.

Teachers are encouraged to use this section for group-work around the computer or to extract relevant areas as the basis for printed material. In a similar way, the user manual contains teacher's notes on how to make best use of the resource.

No doubt this CD has a ready market in those departments which have already committed themselves to the Collins textbook of the same name. However, this is an open resource that can be used with a wide age-range and in many contexts. However, there are grounds for criticism. Returning to the browse screen from a picture card always places you at the beginning of your selection rather than where you left it. Pictures on the information screens are slightly compressed, making them rather dark, and details are difficult to see. While enlargements are available in the "analysis" section, they are not on the ordinary information cards.

Of more concern is the inconsistency of the key-wording and descriptions. Conducting a search for "women" and "work" and "war" using keywords reveals one picture of women window cleaners in the First World War.

Conducting the same search within the picture descriptions reveals a further six pictures, but not the one shown in the previous search. Similarly, conducting a search under the same criteria within the "women" theme finds two keyword entries.

Unfortunately, the text also raises doubts about historical accuracy. For example, one card states that Lord Baden Powell founded the Boy Scouts in 1890, while another correctly states 1907.

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