Reconstructing Past Teaching

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Demmy Verbeke

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

  2. 2. Sam Alloing

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

  3. 3. Luc Lannoy

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

  4. 4. Matthias Meirlaen

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

  5. 5. Bruno Vandermeulen

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

  6. 6. Ilse Neirinck

    Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain)

Work text
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One of the best sources to get an insight in how various subjects (e.g. history, Latin, home economics) were instructed to children and teenage pupils in the past, are the textbooks that were used in various pedagogical systems. They can teach us how knowledge in these various subjects was ordered and presented and how one tried to transfer this knowledge – a fact that is recognized, e.g., in the multifarious work of researchers working on the collections of the National Museum of Education (Rotterdam) or the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (Braunschweig). This type of publications, however, is often overlooked in the creation of library collections. The main reason for this is that textbooks, and other connected teaching materials (such as curricula, didactic plates and pedagogical journals), are generally considered to be only relevant for a brief period of time, namely for as long as they are used in a didactic context. They are continually replaced by more recent materials, and only become the object of study again when one wants to reconstruct past teaching.
This poster depicts the efforts at the University Library of the KU Leuven (Belgium) to preserve and prepare such didactic material, created in a Belgian context and thus mostly written in French or Dutch, for present and future research. It also presents how specific corpora of textbooks are catalogued and digitized to facilitate their study, and details the concrete plans to further unlock these didactic sources through more advanced digitization enabling distant reading (starting from an exploratory pilot study focusing on history textbooks). By presenting this case, it illustrates the current results and the future possibilities of the collaboration between researchers and library staff in the context of specific Digital Humanities projects, and documents the ambition of various divisions of the University Library to continue to foster such collaborations (Verbeke, 2014 and Truyen-Verbeke, 2015).
The poster first describes the origins and content of the collection of textbooks and related didactic materials within the Library of Psychology and Educational Sciences, a division of the University Library at KU Leuven. It then details how this unique collection is being catalogued by the staff of the Metadata Unit. This is done according to a specifically developed data model (using the resource management environment in the library software
Alma) which both ensures maximum compatibility with the general library discovery system (currently
Primo/Limo at the KU Leuven), as well as the provision of detailed metadata which is needed in the context of an academic study of these teaching materials. The next part discusses the various ways in which this collection is or can be used by researchers, as well as the various selections which have been made in the context of specific research projects (e.g. by focusing on representations of Belgian-Congolese (post)colonial history in Belgian secondary school education since the Second World War, cf. Van Nieuwenhuyse, 2014 and 2015). It details how research projects of this kind determine a corpus of teaching materials, smaller than the entire collection, which are studied in more detail through a close reading of the physical materials, but which also form a priority category of items to be digitized by the Digitization Unit of the University Library. At present, this digitization offers high-end photographic images of the relevant books (using a Qidenus Smart Book Scan, 2 Nikon D800 cameras with 36 million pixels used in a color-calibrated workflow, producing RAW, TIF and JPEG files), but the ambition is to extend this to the creation of a machine-readable textual corpus which enables distant reading as well (with the intention that this distant reading will supplement, not supplant, close reading; see Moretti, 2013 and the varying interpretations of Moretti’s intentions in Serlen, 2010, Khadem, 2012, and Ross, 2014). The poster therefore closes with a brief presentation of the OCR (Aletheia, ABBYY Finereader Engine, ocrevalUAtion) and NER (INL Attestation tool, Stanford NER tool with Europeana Newspaper extension) technology used at the University Library of KU Leuven, building on previous experience gathered in the context of a Succeed-project (Alloing-Verbeke, 2014 and Verbeke, 2015).


Alloing, S. and Verbeke, D. (2014). Tools Evaluation: University Library of KU Leuven. (accessed 20 February 2016).

Khadem, A. (2012). Annexing the unread: a close reading of “distant reading”,
39: 409-421.

Moretti, F. (2013).
Distant Reading. London: Verso.

Ross, S. (2014). In Praise of Overstating the Case: A review of Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013),
Digital Humanities Quarterly,
8(1), (accessed 20 February 2016).

Serlen, R. (2010). The Distant Future? Reading Franco Moretti,
Literature Compass,
7(3): 217-225.

Truyen, F. and Verbeke, D. (2015). The library as a valued partner in Digital Humanities projects: The example of EuropeanaPhotography,
Art Libraries Journal,
40(3): 28-33.

Van Nieuwenhuyse, K. (2014). From triumphalism to amnesia. Belgian-Congolese (post)colonial history in Belgian secondary history education curricula and textbooks (1945-1989),
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35: 79-100.

Van Nieuwenhuyse, K. (2015). Increasing criticism and perspectivism: Belgian-Congolese (post)colonial history in Belgian secondary history education curricula and textbooks (1990-present),
International Journal of Research on History Didactics, History Education, and History Culture,
36: 183-204.

Verbeke, D. (2014). The opportunistic librarian: A Leuven confession,
Digital Humanities 2014: Conference Abstracts. Lausanne: EPFL and UNIL, pp. 395-396.

Verbeke, D. (2015). Renaissance Studies, Digital Humanities and the Library.
JNR Polaris, (accessed 20 February 2016).

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2016
"Digital Identities: the Past and the Future"

Hosted at Jagiellonian University, Pedagogical University of Krakow

Kraków, Poland

July 11, 2016 - July 16, 2016

454 works by 1072 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (11)

Organizers: ADHO