Old medical records as historical sources - an accessible film

By Bettina Alavi and Eva Franz

Located at the psychiatric clinic in Heidelberg is the internationally known Collection Prinzhorn, in which works of mentally ill artists are archived and exhibited.1 Its founder, psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1866-1933), laid the foundations for the study of art and art therapy in psychiatric context. From 1910-1921 he was hired by the Heidelberg Psychiatric University Clinic to develop an existing small art collection made by mentally ill persons. His book, "Bildnerei der Geisteskranken" ("Sculpture of the Mentally Ill"), was received by artists such as Max Ernst. Today's scholarly discussion of Prinzhorn's artists, in addition to dealing with the artistic products, also applies to the biography of the patients. The reconstruction of their life stories is based on historical medical records.2

Historical medical records are sources that were primarily written about the patient: the doctor noted symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Sometimes there were also letters from relatives. A further part consisted of official documents such as instructions, invoices, etc. Only in exceptional cases were letters, drawings, or pictures by the patient included. Nevertheless, the course of the patient's life can at times be at least partly traced. In addition, they provide insights into the historical background such as the roles of patients and caregivers, as well as insurance issues and much more.

With the demand for inclusion in education and with the development of disability history, the question arises about the provision of adequately prepared knowledge about mental illnesses and their treatment in history. Accessibility for all is an important basic condition: both to the Collection Prinzhorn, and to the materials made for educational purposes in the museum. The accessible preparation of these materials is the focus of a project in history didactics. Teacher training students at the University of Education in Heidelberg created accessible film sequences,3 which elaborate aspects of the history of psychiatry around 1900 in the context of the Collection Prinzhorn for a diverse group.

A product of the project is the film sequence "Alte Krankenakten als Quellen" ("Old medical records as historical sources").4 In the section shown here, the notion of historical source is clarified using an example of a medical record. Accessibility is enhanced through linear narration. This narration consists of language and visualization, which additionally structures the section and explains the content. The language is based on an everyday comprehensible vocabulary and follows the rules of Leichte Sprache (German version of Simple English).5 The moderation is calm, the articulation is clear. The source work is equated with detective work; a detective is repeatedly used as stylistic means. This visualization loosens the content humorously but not ironically. The lack of background music is intended and mental breaks are built in.

Making a film accessible is more than just methodological adjustments. It demands a deliberate reduction of the complexity of content through didactic elementarization.6 This concept is based on theories originated in special education. Leading questions for the process of elementarization are: What are the basic structures of the subject? What do people experience? And what is important from a social perspective? The elaboration of these "elementary structures", "elementary experiences" and "elementary basic principles of life" serve to elucidate the core of the matter.7

In the context of history didactics, the film sequence corresponds to the method of inquiry-based learning, as the detective work provides a method of identifying a historical source and shows ways to use it: Asking questions to a historical source is explicated. This is regarded as an important competence on the path to historical awareness.8

Recommended Citation:
Bettina Alavi & Eva Franz (2017): Old medical records as historical sources - an accessible film. In: Public Disability History 2 (2017) 4.

[1] www.prinzhorn.ukl-hd.de/index.php?id=84, visited 2/22/2017.
[2] Fuchs, Petra (2010): "Sei doch dich selbst". Krankenakten als historische Quellen von Subjektivität im Kontext der Disability History. In: Elsbeth Bösl, Anne Klein, Anne Waldschmidt (Hrsg.): Disability History. Konstruktion von Behinderung in der Geschichte. Eine Einführung. Bielefeld, 105-123
[3] Vision Kino gGmbh (Hrsg.) (2013): Praxisleitfaden Inklusion und Film. Methoden, Tipps und Informationen für eine inklusive Filmbildung. Berlin: www.visionkino.de/publikationen/leitfaeden/praxisleitfaden-inklusion-und-film, visited 2/22/2017.
[4] The film was made by Anna Güse and Alena Roberts in Alavi’s and Franz’ seminar "Disability History" in winter semester 2016/17.
[5] www.leichtesprache.org, visited 2/22/2017.
[6] Lamers, Wolfgang/Heinen, Norbert (2006): Bildung mit ForMat – Impulse für eine veränderte Unterrichtspraxis mit Schülerinnen und Schülern mit (schwerer) Behinderung. In: D. Laubenstein, W. Lamers, N. Heinen (Hrsg.): Basale Stimulation kritisch – konstruktiv. Düsseldorf, 141-205.
[7] Seitz, Simone (2006): Inklusive Didaktik: Die Frage nach dem Kern der Sache. Zeitschrift für Inklusion www.inklusion-online.net/index.php/inklusion-online/article/view/184, visited 2/22/2017.
[8] Reeken, Dietmar von (2014): Historisches Lehren und Lernen. In. A. Hartinger, K. Lange (Hrsg.): Sachunterrichtsdidaktik für die Grundschule. Berlin, 98-116.

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