Botanical wallchart discovery

Dr John Warren, IBERS Director of Learning and Teaching, with one of the wall charts.

Dr John Warren, IBERS Director of Learning and Teaching, with one of the wall charts.

09 May 2014

A chance discovery of some fascinating 120 year old hand illustrated wallcharts in one of the IBERS Aberystwyth University buildings on Penglais Campus highlights how teaching science has changed dramatically over the years.

A minor flooding incident in the cellar of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences building led to the discovery of a secret stash of over 100 beautifully illustrated wallcharts featuring plants– some believed to be of significant financial value.

Dr John Warren, Director of Learning and Teaching at IBERS said; “The intricate nature of these drawings enabled the lecturers of the 1800’s to engage their students in a very different way to how we teach them now. These were in effect the PowerPoint of their day. We are delighted to have access to this work – their scientific content and significance outweighs any financial consideration.”

Educational wallcharts were designed for classroom use in the early 1800's. They were first made in small format and depicted simple scenes and objects for primary school teaching. Wallcharts were produced and sold in large quantities not only for primary schools but also for higher education.

Several factors contributed to the use of wallcharts. Lithography was invented in the late 1700's and made possible the production of large colour prints at a reasonable price.

In the nineteenth century in Germany the educational system underwent major reform. In 1852 the average schoolteacher had 136 students in their classroom. It was difficult to pass engravings around a classroom and almost impossible to show students the view through a microscope.

Large wall images could be viewed from almost every corner of the classroom and became popular with instructors. Botanische Wandtafeln, or, Botanical Wallcharts, show anatomical and morphological details of plants.

A selection of these wallcharts will be on display during Fascination of Plants Day organised by IBERS on Saturday May 17th between 9.30 – 12.30  outside the Arts Centre theatre.

Visitors can see and discuss the difference between the teaching methods adopted then and now and children can have a go at making their own jewellery with plastic they make from plant material.

There will also be an opportunity to learn more about IBERS’ unique National Plant Phenomics Centre located in Gogerddan, and why grasses and oats bred and developed by IBERS have a long standing reputation for being some of the best in the world.