Exploring Dimensions of the Past: A Historiographical Analysis of Instructional Design and Technology Historical Works

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Instructional Design HistoryHistoriographyHistorical MethodPostmodernismHistoricismSocio-cultural HistoryHistorical Perspectives
Every academic field has a history valuable to understanding how a field developed (Ames, 2015). History can offer important insight into times, places, and people that have long been considered less relevant to the present or future. Through re-examination of written histories using new philosophical lenses or analytical approaches, researchers and practitioners are able to prevent stagnancy in historical research and uncover new perspectives or moments in history, specifically Instructional Design and Technology (IDT) history. This critical historiography of IDT’s written histories examines how various approaches to writing IDT history produce certain interpretations and understandings of IDT’s past. Historiography is the critical analysis of the written history of the history of a field or topic of study, such as IDT (Becker, 1938; Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Historiography is useful in understanding how history has been written and how the act of writing and interpreting history impacts the understanding of history, the present, and the future (Cheng, 2012). This article introduces two major historical and philosophical paradigms evident in IDT history and explores associated research methods. The article then explores how historical record is thought about, shaped, and written to shed light on areas of IDT history previously unexplored and offer suggestions for future research and practice. A greater awareness of varied historical approaches and perspectives in academic inquiry can offer new ways to bolster or broaden research agendas and practitioner work in IDT.


Everything and everyone has a history – a place from which it or they originated that conveys understanding (Breisach, 2007). Every academic field has a history valuable to understanding how a field developed (Ames, 2015). A field’s written history bridges its past to its present by offering valuable insights about times, places, and people long considered forgotten or less relevant to the present or future. Annalist historian Fernand Braudel (1980) stated about writing history, “everything must be recaptured and relocated in the general framework of history, so that despite the difficulties, the fundamental paradoxes and contradictions, we may respect the unity of history which is also the unity of life" (p. 18).

One strategy used to “recapture” and “relocate” a field’s history to create more unity within that field and “life” comes from using historiography. Historiography is the study of the history of history and achieved by examining the approaches historians have used to record specific histories throughout time. As such, historical research – the methods and philosophies – has much to offer in understanding instructional design and technology (IDT) history. A review of written histories of the field of IDT suggests an opportunity to expand the historical knowledge base to impact research and practice. IDT has a rich history documented by various authors which has served the field well over time (Cuban, 1986; Iverson, 1953; Lembo, 1970; Molenda, 2008; Reiser, 2001a, 2001b; Saettler, 1953, 1967, 1990, 2004). However, shifting historical approaches to IDT history deepens the understanding of IDT’s past, and prepares IDT researchers to fully represent the field in the future ensuring a wealth of uncovered knowledge and research or practice opportunities are not left behind.

This article aims to demonstrate how views about history and approaches to documenting history may cultivate and constrain understanding of IDT’s past. It is hoped that such an understanding can advance IDT’s historical research agenda towards informing a more holistic and inclusive practitioner agenda in the future. This article defines historiography and traces how philosophical approaches to history have been applied in the representation of IDT history. Using historiography, this article outlines historical perspectives existent in IDT history and introduces new perspectives or approaches to researching and writing IDT history. By re-assessing how historical record is thought about, shaped, and written, the next generation of IDT scholars can shed light on areas of IDT history previously unexplored. Greater awareness of the historical approaches and perspectives in IDT’s academic inquiry can offer new ways to bolster or broaden agendas in IDT research and practice and hold potential for more inclusive representation in telling the stories of the field’s past, present, and future.

Defining Historiography

Historiography is the critical analysis of the written history of the history of a field or topic of study, such as IDT (Becker, 1938; Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Historiography is defined as:

A historical technique in which the researcher examines how the history of a topic has been written, including the author’s ideologies and arguments, the scope and foci of the person’s work, the treatment of sources (or lack thereof), and the historical context of the work being reviewed (Gasman, 2011, p. 402).

Historiographies help to paint a fuller picture of interpretations of the past to direct future research and practice. Historiographical analysis allows for re-examination and re-interpretation of written histories using new philosophical lenses or analytical approaches. Consequently, new and seasoned researchers are able to prevent stagnancy in historical research and uncover new perspectives or moments in history, specifically Instructional Design and Technology (IDT) history.

If historiography is the history of history, then, what is history? Professional historians have argued about this question for centuries with little consensus as to the answer (Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Historiography should not be used synonymously with “history.” Historiography considers how all writers of history and historical record possess their own perceptions of the past. From Roman and Greek historians of antiquity, to Voltaire, Hume, and Gibbon of the Enlightenment era, to Hegel, Marx, and Bancroft’s histories of modernization, these historians all had preconceived understandings of what history is and its subsequent purpose for posterity (Arnold, 2000; Bancroft, 2002; Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007; Stern, 1956). Likewise, writers of IDT history have set notions of what history is in relation to IDT as a realm of practice in the past and, consequently, the present. Therefore, historiography is a useful tool for understanding how history has been written and how the act of writing and interpreting history impacts the understanding of history as it has been written over time. Historiography shifts the focus away from specific historical events – what many people conceive as the study of history (Becker, 1938). Spalding and Parker (2007) explain history is the past and historiography is the study of descriptions of the past or how the past is described. Historiographers caution that the simplicity of viewing the definition of history as only the past denies the inclusion of an expansive understanding of how history is shaped by those that author it, their assumptions, and their biases (Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Written histories are inherently embedded with the biases of their authorship meaning there is no particular way to truly know the past as it was – only as it is detailed through the lens of another (Cheng, 2012; Gaddis, 2002). Historiography acknowledges the subjectivity of written histories and allows for a critical lens aimed at author’s perspective, author’s agenda, “accuracy” of interpretation, source selection, and historical assumptions to determine patterns, new understandings, and limitations in a body of historical work (Becker, 1938; Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012; Gasman, 2011; Spalding & Parker, 2007).

Early Philosophical Views of History

How has the history of IDT evolved to be represented as a field? For pragmatic purposes, historians generally agree history is a complicated puzzle skillfully pieced together through research of primary and secondary sources – i.e., the historical method (Arnold, 2000). Marc Bloch (1992), Annalist historian, stated “the historian is, by definition, absolutely incapable of observing the facts which he examines” (p. 40). Because a historian cannot observe the past, Januszewski (1996, 1997), an IDT scholar, explains resources are analyzed, interpreted, and inferences are concluded based on the historian’s epistemological, philosophical, and theoretical views about history, and IDT more specifically, as a field of study and practice. Unfortunately, historians are often left without enough recorded evidence to determine the “truth” about what occurred, or as German idealist Leopold von Ranke stated, “Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist (the way it really was)” (Cheng, 2012, p. 74). Historians must ask questions such as what happened? or, did not happen? and, why? what was it like then? and what was the cause or the impact? Because historians cannot observe historical facts directly, historians are forced to, instead, answer these questions with evidence-based guesswork from primary and secondary sources (Cheng, 2012; Gasman, 2011).

Historical guesswork is heavily influenced by the researcher’s understanding of what history is and the events and people being studied, and historians are rarely able to validate their interpretations because no historian truly knows the past. Entire tomes of philosophical research and writing have been dedicated to supposition regarding the definition and philosophy of history, and the subsequent histories written from these perspectives. A thorough discussion of these perspectives is outside the scope of this article (Januszewski 1996, 1997; See Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, E. H Carr’s 1961, What is History? or R. J. Evans’ 2000, In Defense of History). Instead, primarily as an introduction to historical thinking, this article explores two broad philosophical realms influencing IDT history and how IDT history is described – historicism and postmodernism.

These two realms are not diametrically opposed, but have various perspectives, methods, and approaches that often overlap depending on the author and historical context in which they are writing (Cheng, 2012). Historicism envelops rich traditions such as positivistic history, Hegel’s dialectics, historical relativism, Marx’s historical materialism and more, while postmodernism encompasses such approaches as social scientific, feminist history, and social history, to name a few. Both perspectives allow researchers to make valuable contributions to the field through rigorous historical primary and secondary source research. However, by separating historical philosophy in this manner, it is easier to demonstrate the broader implications of how histories in IDT, specifically, are predicated on these views and major underlying assumptions. 

Early Rankean Historicism

Rankean historicism calls for critical analysis and scrutiny of historical records to uncover accuracy and authenticity through rigorous primary source investigation (Arnold, 2000). Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) coined the term historicism to describe the study of the past as it was and urged historians to steer away from overarching explanations of causal analysis, tempting interpretation where not required (Cheng, 2012; Stern, 1956). Historicism was a disciplined response to historical narrative, romanticism, embellishment, and storytelling in historical records – an attempt to dispel philosophical influences and personal belief. Principles of historicism maintain an observable truth of the historical past (Arnold, 2000). Each historical period or moment is unique and significant and should not necessarily be considered a precursor to present or future events (Cheng, 2012). Ranke’s historicism became the underlying assumption of the historical profession – that everything in history is a product of historical forces shaped and conditioned by historical context (Cheng, 2012). Historicism relies on principles such as Comte’s scientific idea of observable frequencies – if enough observable examples or facts could be discovered, then laws or patterns could be deduced about the past as it really occurred at a particular moment (Arnold, 2000; Cheng, 2012). Consequently, historicist methods are traditionally taught to all school-aged learners and novice historians as the foundation for historical inquiry, and these methods are reflected in valuable histories in IDT.

Both McClusky (1981) and Lembo (1970) examine the historical development of the Department of Audio-Visual Instruction (DAVI) via primary source analysis. Lembo’s (1970) DAVI sanctioned dissertation on the history of the growth and development of DAVI is the result of an extensive interrogation of primary documents from 1923 to 1968 using the historical method. Iverson’s (1953) dissertation on the history of audiovisual instruction uses in-depth archival evidence to construct a historical narrative of the audiovisual movement. In Teachers and Machines, Cuban (1986) accessed primary sources on technology use in the classroom throughout the early 20th century. Cuban (1986) inspected various public-school reports and records to determine technology use in classrooms from the 1920s onwards to examine the progress of technology’s promise to enhance the classroom environment. Saettler’s (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) comprehensive histories of the field are indicative of a Rankean approach to historicism, based on descriptive use of primary and secondary source analyses. All of these works focus on the collection of facts observable in historical records to determine patterns or natural laws existent in IDT’s past. 

Modern Historicism, Progress, & Historical Timelines

Early Rankean historicist methods developed and focused on rigorous procedures known as the historical method to explain observation of historical facts. However, historians recognized the inherent difficulty in maintaining purist stances of objectivity in historical writing under the auspices of observable facts because widespread interpretation was consistently required to explain how or why events occurred. Historians considered objectivity especially challenging while personally living during periods of political and socioeconomic change or influence (Arnold, 2000; Cheng, 2012). Over time, conflicted historians agreed the science of history was determined by objectivity of facts such as dates, places, and names, but some subjectivity supported reconstructing cause, motive, and explanation (Cheng, 2012). The meaning and procedures of historicism shifted and weakened constraints on Ranke’s original intentions for historical analysis resulting in new patterns, causes, and overarching explanations of history (Cheng, 2012; Breisach, 2007; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Historians started to use causal analysis to explain ideas of progress as central to history’s movement (Bancroft, 2002; Cheng, 2012; Stern, 1956; See Fisher’s 1970 explanation of the fallacies of causation and generalization in Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought). Enlightenment reason and nineteenth-century idealism transformed historicism to reflect teleological ideas and the movement of humanity’s progress throughout time (Cheng, 2012). Teleological perspectives of history are based on the idea that humanity or society is moving towards civilization through constant improvement (Arnold, 2000; Cheng, 2012; Fischer, 1970; Stern, 1956). History suddenly presented as a long march to a predetermined endpoint or culmination in history examined through historical record (Bancroft, 2002; Cheng, 2012).

Teleological views of history are not new to historians nor are they absent in IDT histories. Ideas of progression and determinism are maintained in 21st-century contexts as contemporary historians and educators speak of technological growth and development as cycles (See Gartner Hype Cycle, Panetta, 2021). Saettler’s (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) compendiums use causal connections and archival guesswork to demonstrate the rise, development, and linear movement (i.e., teleology) of IDT by connecting IDT history to early philosophy in ancient times through to its lengthier development during the 20th century. Saettler’s (1953) dissertation “confined itself to tracing in outline the general development of this field” (p.8). Saettler (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) uses a general arc of progress and development to frame IDT’s success and progress as a field. Histories, such as Saettler’s, analyze primary sources from the earliest points in IDT history to ultimately demonstrate the realization or accomplishment of the field of IDT. 

Saettler’s histories are moderate versions of what historians describe as historical exceptionalism or the idea that the realization of an artifact or event’s history occurred at the pinnacle of the arc in its historical timeline or trajectory. Similarly, Cuban’s (1986) history uses progress of technology development in the classroom to trace cycles of adoption and failure throughout the history of the classroom. Iverson (1953) and Lembo (1970) both emphasize the growth of the audiovisual movement and progress of DAVI over a similar arc of progress. Lembo (1970) threads a line through DAVI’s rise, evolution, and establishment in the audiovisual movement exemplifying similar historical progression via a coming-of-age history. Reiser (2001a, 2001b, 2017a, 2017b) and Molenda (2008) trace the order of major IDT developments and the naming of the field of IDT throughout the twentieth century. All previously mentioned IDT histories describe the development, change, and flow of events towards an undetermined endpoint measured by progress (Arnold, 2000; Cheng, 2012; Kvale, 1995; Popper, 2002) to demonstrate the trajectory of IDT’s history. However, while valuable to understanding how IDT developed as a field, these perspectives also construct what historians call “meta-narratives” defined by recognized postmodernist Jenkins (1991) as “old organizing frameworks that presupposed the privileging of centers” (p. 71) – total overarching accounts of historical events and experiences. Axiologically, teleological histories inadvertently use the historical method to demonstrate value or confirmation of certain ideas such as progress, supremacy, and greatness through grand designs of advancement and improvement.

Problematizing Historicism

IDT historical interpretations rely heavily on teleology to emphasize what is valued in IDT history and how far the field has developed, changed, and most importantly progressed or improved over time using a common, yet somewhat problematic historical tool – periodization. Historical periodization is a necessary tool in historical writing and heavy reliance on periodization in writing structures permeates teleological histories. Historians use periodization to label sections of time to easily describe changes and progression with identifiable start and end points (Arnold, 2000; Gaddis, 2002; Popper, 2002). Teleological interpretations of history adhere heavily to divisibility of time to demonstrate passage of time (Cheng, 2012). While practical in displaying an organized progression of the field through periodization of events, theories, and ideas, periodization is a historical paradox (Bentley, 1996; Popper, 2002). Researchers use periodization in consideration of their goals in writing which in turn unintentionally prescribes meaning about how a period is situated in the broader framework of history. Based on how broadly or narrowly periods are defined by a historian, prescribed timeframes often imply meaning not originally intended by the researcher (Arnold, 2000). Butler (1995, 2000a, 2000b), Cuban (1986), Lembo (1970), Molenda (2008), Reiser (2001a, 2001b), and Saettler (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) utilize chronological order and prescribed time divisions to describe sections of IDT history.

Saettler’s (2004) book section and Butler’s (1995, 2000a, 2000b) histories of the audiovisual movement date the audiovisual movement between approximately 1920 and 1960. Cuban (1986) situates the start of the audiovisual movement in the 1920s. Lembo’s (1970) entire dissertation on the audiovisual movement and DAVI, places the movement precisely between 1923 and 1968. However, in a transcribed interview of Elizabeth Golterman in Butler’s (1995) dissertation, developments in educational film were historically evident long before the 1920s and 1930s. A similar example, instructional television’s rise is situated in the 1950s and 1960s in most IDT histories (Cuban, 1986; Reiser, 2001a, 2001b, 2017a, 2017b; Saettler, 1953, 1967, 1990, 2004), but Taylor (1967) points toward earlier development and use of television and broadcasting in education. Developments before and after instructional television reached its apex in the 1950s and 1960s risk being lost because periodization artificially constrains instructional television to one moment in time. As a result of periodization, IDT researchers and practitioners may fail to look for education and technology developments in IDT history outside of time periods strongly associated with the emergence of those technologies in written IDT history. 

Periodization may also influence perceptions of the historical trajectory of theoretical foundations in IDT. As a mechanism for framing trends in the field, Reiser (2001a, 2001b, 2017a, 2017b) uses periodization in his histories to describe the development of instructional theories and associated decades. For example, systems thinking is situated in the 1970s, industry and performance enhancement is featured as a development of the 1980s, and constructivism gained prominence in the 1990s (Reiser, 2001a, 2001b). Molenda (2008) also bases the latter part of his chapter on outlining decades of IDT development on learning and instructional theories. While periodization provides better understanding of the general movement and development of IDT theory, it could possibly limit recognition of the range of time in which historical foundations of a theory developed. Roots of instructional theories developed before the commonly associated decades in IDT history. For example, constructivism’s roots appeared long before the 1990s – a time where more researchers started to accept the theory as useful in the field of IDT. Piaget, Vygotsky, Papert, Dewey, and Bruner all promoted learning theories based on similar underlying philosophies (Driscoll, 2005). Periodization inadvertently confines theories like constructivism to certain places in time which has the unintended effect of redirecting the focus of research exclusively to that time point (Arnold, 2000). This limitation may be a particular challenge for novice researchers or practitioners who may not possess the skills or knowledge to uncover contributions to the development of IDT’s theoretical underpinnings, as well as those outside of the field who may utilize IDT concepts as a basis for cross-disciplinary research and practice. Future researchers or practitioners may fail to look beyond constructed periods for precursory evidence of IDT’s theoretical beginnings. 

Existing written histories of IDT evidence strong support for traditional historicism and thorough attention is paid to the rise and development of our field. However, while historicism through teleology lends itself well to exhibiting the development of IDT via cause and explanation, another historiographical issue with teleology is generalization (Arnold, 2000; Gaddis, 2002; Popper, 2002). Spalding and Parker (2007) explain historicism is comfortable because it is human nature to organize, order, and explain. Evans (2000) defends historicism’s usefulness in causal explanation because humanity yearns to know “why?”. However, teleological histories and metanarratives of progression also equate the full complexity of a field’s history to single sweeping patterns or cycles (e.g., rise and fall of civilizations or empires). These interpretations may range from an inadequate representation of the full complexity of historical trajectory to, in extreme cases, communicating determinist ideas (Gaddis, 2002). IDT histories relying heavily on teleology convey strong generalizations of historical time periods and people to the exclusion of other historical perspectives and experiences (Jenkins, 1991). In response to generalization and the paradox of periodization, the rise of postmodernist ideas in historical analysis has led to the deconstruction of issues resulting from the limitations of historicism. 

Postmodernism: A Shift in Historical Perspectives

By the mid-twentieth century, a change in perspective regarding how history is examined and represented impacted the study of IDT history. Historians considered interpretations of history a product of the influence of authors’ social and cultural context (Becker, 1932; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Cheng (2012) explains context became the central focus of historical inquiry. Context’s influence on historical writing stipulates there can be no definitive universal truth about the past because overcoming subjectivity in writing history is impossible (Becker, 1938; Cheng, 2012; Jenkins, 1991). Postmodernist historians argue history is a constructed past and there is a plurality of criteria to determine what is true and for whom (Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012). Historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), as quoted in Oléron Evans, Müller, and Giannaccini (2017), puts the postmodern view into perspective:

In the wide ocean upon which we venture, the possible ways and directions are many; and the same studies which have served for my work might easily, in other hands, not only receive a wholly different treatment and application, but lead to essentially different conclusions (p. 7).

With varying interpretations, postmodernists believe seeking a universal truth does not fit with contemporary understandings of knowledge production, cultural experiences, and construction of a historical past (Cheng, 2012). Critics of historicism’s philosophy deconstruct the prevalent paradigmatic approaches derived from the Rankean tradition. Bloch (1992) conceived of history outside of the traditional linearity of progress. He proposed a multiplicity of ways of looking at the complex layers and interconnectedness of historical time and place (Breisach, 2007; Cheng, 2012). By considering new concepts of time, historians focus less on generalizations and more on the complexities of specific timepoints in history and the participating humans. These historians contend teleological histories look for meaning where it does not exist – outside human experience and artifact (Cheng, 2012; Gaddis, 2002). Bloch (1953) proposed that, “everything that a man says or writes, everything that he makes, everything he touches can and ought to teach us about him” (p.66). Postmodernists aim to contextualize history in order to reveal human experiences and return agency to individuals and groups in order to convey history from their personal perspectives. 

The Postmodern Lens in IDT

New perspectives often promote new methodological approaches, as is evident in more recent historical research explorations in IDT. Scholars including Bradshaw (2018), Butler (1995, 2000b, 2008), Butler and De Vaney (1994), Butler and Lockee (2016), Donaldson (2016), Lockee and Song (2016), Subramony (2018), and Young (2001, 2009) characterize postmodernism in their historical analyses. Butler (1995, 2000b, 2008) and Butler and De Vaney’s (1994) research of IDT history use discourse analysis to focus on extracting meaning from everyday action or language without assuming that all humans experience history the same way. Butler (1995, 2000b, 2008) and Butler and De Vaney’s (1994) histories focus more on historical experience and less on explanations for historical occurrences while Donaldson (2016), Subramony (2018), Bradshaw (2018), and Young (2001) seek to contextualize historical experiences in IDT and return agency or voice to previously excluded individuals and groups. Butler (2008), Butler and Lockee (2016), and Lockee and Song (2016) challenge the precedence of written text in history by recording interviews with AECT Legends and Legacies as living records for posterity and promoting oral history as a valuable research approach. All of these histories aim to examine new areas of IDT history otherwise previously unnoticed or forgotten due to traditional historical perspectives and methods. Postmodernism addresses the limitations of historicism by forgoing prevalent ideas of teleology and using new tools and approaches to unveil missing parts of the past. 

Challenging Historicist ‘Documentation’ and Tools

Evident in postmodern perspectives is the use of different research methods and tools to complement the historical and philosophical approach. Butler and Lockee (2016) and Donaldson’s (2016) research in IDT use written biographical and autobiographical methods in history as forms of historical record. Butler and Lockee (2016) composed historical vignettes on prominent women in the field of IDT. Historical vignettes are short episodic highlights of important features of historical experiences or biographical snapshots based on historical sources. Gasman (2011) explains historical biographies or autobiographies examine the intertwined life of a single person or group of people affected by historically situated issues. Piecing together biography and autobiography, Donaldson’s (2016) Women’s Voices in the Field of Educational Technology reflects the use of prosopography. Prosopography is “a controversial form of historical research, involving the use of collective biography [or autobiography] to make assertions based on themes or occurrences that happen across the biographies [autobiographies]” (Gasman 2011, p. 406). According to Gasman (2011), traditional historians do not sanction collective use of biographies to generalize about larger historical issues. Countering, Gasman (2011) argues prosopography “can be quite useful in terms of looking at the actions of individuals across decades or the influences of a movement or National events [historical moment] on many individuals” (p. 406). Donaldson’s (2016) book collects personal experiences of women both past and current to demonstrate that while women’s experiences differ, collective themes run throughout the personal and historical narratives of women of IDT. 

Another innovative and controversial approach to history is oral history. Butler (2008) states “simply speaking, an oral history is a recorded interview of an individual or group of individuals by an historian . . . ” (p. 34). Gasman (2011) describes oral history as controversial because it relies on the unreliability of memory. However, Gasman (2011) encourages the use of oral history because it results in real-life experiences that can be validated or invalidated with existing historical records. Oral histories in conjunction with other primary documentation could develop new understanding and perspective on IDT history. For example, many of the AECT Legends and Legacies (n.d.) interviews can be cross-validated with written records to substantiate memories. Oral histories are critical to historical record because quite often they are the only existing records of a time period (Butler, 2008). The AECT Legends and Legacies (n.d.) interviews provide valued records of researchers and practitioners in the field, and knowledge of IDT beyond academic journals (Bonk, 2018; Lockee & Song, 2016). AECT interviewees were more likely to share informal IDT knowledge gained from conference, personal, teaching, and academic or practitioner experiences – information not typically garnered from professional publications. Oral histories also challenge supremacy of forms of written history by recording living accounts of oral tradition and human experience (Butler, 2008; Cheng, 2012). The hegemony of written history as a product of historical analysis is primarily a Western Eurocentric development that is highly valued over oral tradition (Breisach, 2007). 

Challenging Teleological Passivity 

Because of the paradigmatic primacy of written history and traditional approaches, historical research in IDT follows evident patterns of progression determining the people or groups included as the focus in historical writing. Teleology tracks progress and power in historically recorded events traditionally linked to masculinity (Lerner, 1979; Spalding & Parker, 2007). IDT as a field heralds its military beginnings because instructional design theory and practice were by proxy developed and tested under exacting specifications for military training (Butler, 1995; Butler & De Vaney, 1994; De Vaney & Butler, 2001; Reiser, 2001a, 2001b). Based on significant IDT contributions in preparing the military during the wars, portions of IDT history are indelibly attached to events where men are situated as central in social, economic, and political spheres of the time. Cuban (1986), Reiser (2001a, 2001b, 2017a, 2017b), and Saettler (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) follow the progression of major developments in IDT history and therefore, predominantly male-oriented events or activities. Most IDT historical writing during the twentieth century plausibly depicts the work and actions of those in socially powerful positions – primarily men (Lerner, 1979). 

As revealed, new approaches to historical analysis enable researchers to uncover the “hidden pieces of the past” or “history from below” (Breisach 2007, p. 368). Butler (1995, 2000b), Butler and De Vaney (1994) and De Vaney and Butler’s (2001) work highlight women contributors to the field of IDT. De Vaney and Butler (2001) employed historical discourse analysis to deconstruct dominant language used in IDT to reveal the gendered perceptions of women in IDT and the barriers these perceptions placed on access to the field. The analysis focused specifically on how past IDT professionals referred to and spoke about men and women in the founding years of AECT. For instance, Saettler’s (1953, 1967, 1990, 2004) histories refer to Amelia Meissner, Anna Verona Dorris, Margaret Devizia, Elizabeth Golterman, Rita Hochheimer, and Etta Schneider, but mainly as footnotes or single lines of reference in the broader narrative of IDT’s development. Saettler (2004) explains that the St. Louis Educational Museum was a significant part of IDT history. He writes the museum was the, “impetus [. . .] of former United States Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris” (p. 129) and Carl Rathmann, the Assistant Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, “who became aware of the instructional potential of these exhibits.” (p. 129) Saettler (1967, 1990, 2004) emphasizes Harris and Rathmann as the men responsible for purchasing and negotiating the museum’s acquisitions – work perceived in the early 1900s and at the time of Saettler’s (1967) earliest publication as men’s sphere of influence. In five paragraphs about Harris and Rathmann, Saettler (2004) recognizes Amelia Meissner in a short statement as first, “the daughter of a famous horticulturist” (p. 129) and second, as “ready to bring the world to the child” (p. 129). Meissner is listed as the curator of the museum and not mentioned again. However, Butler (1995), Butler and Lockee (2016) and De Vaney and Butler’s (2001) approaches to IDT history reveal Meissner was responsible for the development of museum instructional materials and exhibits. She was responsible for acquiring, collecting, and cataloguing educational artifacts while managing the museum (Butler, 1995).

Similarly, new approaches shift focus and highlight other overlooked women contributors such as Margaret Divizia – a highly active audiovisual materials officer for the US Navy (Butler, 1995; De Vaney & Butler, 2001). Margaret Divizia does not surface in most research before Butler (1995) and De Vaney and Butler’s (2001) change in historical perspective and method of analysis. Notable IDT contributors such as Sister Mary Theresa Brentano, Elizabeth Golterman, and Rita Hocheimer are not prominent in the literature of the history of the field either. Herndon’s (2001) micro-historical analysis looks for evidence of tape teaching before its epitome in IDT history. Herndon’s approach uncovers Sister Mary Theresa Brentano’s successful tape teaching classes in Catholic schools in the early to mid-twentieth century – before tape teaching was popularized. Butler’s (1995) discourse analysis and oral history reveals Golterman led many audiovisual committees and worked alongside Amelia Meissner as an educator in the St. Louis Educational Museum (Butler & Lockee, 2016). Hocheimer was a film educator that oversaw the New York City Schools’ Bureau of Visual Instruction for over 25 years (De Vaney & Butler, 2001). New approaches and perspectives reveal IDT as a field with a diverse past previously undetailed in historical writing. Postmodern thinking necessitates new historical approaches that equip researchers with tools to explore the dynamics of IDT’s historical past including the interplay and perceptions of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in IDT history.

IDT histories written from postmodern perspectives may reveal a richer, more nuanced history of the field. Critical race and gender analyses emphasize issues in historical writing regarding gender, class, and race homogeneity. Specifically, gender analyses move a step further past “women’s history” (Cheng, 2012; Spalding & Parker, 2007). Referring to “women” in history as a homogenous group presupposes all women singularly experience history in one way – overlooking intersectional experiences associated with race, ethnicity, sexuality, and culture.

The term “women” is a socially-constructed label standardizing one historical experience for all women of different races, ethnicities, sexualities, and cultures (Tierney, 1991). Gender historians examine the complexities of gender as constructed labels reflected in historical writing. Women identified in IDT histories such as Butler’s (1995) discourse analysis are primarily white, affluent, heterosexual women. While these women are contradictions to temporal norms, they still functioned within dominant cultural spheres of their time. Power, even historically, is multifaceted and distributed unevenly, and the intersectionality of social variables such as race, class, gender, and sexuality need to be accounted for in historical analysis (Subramony, 2018).

Subramony’s (2018) sociological lens on the field of IDT highlights intersectionality at play in daily practice and research agendas. Subramony urges the IDT community to explore current participation of LGBQTIA2S+ identities in learning environments, workplace performance settings, and digitally mediated spaces. Subramony’s dismay at not exploring the valuable contemporary experiences of the LGBQTIA2S+ community in IDT extends in this article to the past – IDT’s history impacts present and future directions in IDT practice. Turning a critical race or gendered lens on IDT histories leads one to ask the following questions: How did the diversity of the LGBQTIA2S+ community contribute to IDT’s history and what were the personal and social barriers to participation? Where were historical participants of different races, ethnicities, and cultures situated in IDT history? Did they have a contributing role? If not, what were the barriers placed on these communities and how did this impact IDT? And, how have valued forms of historical research and writing excluded underrepresented groups from IDT history?

Bradshaw’s (2018) work on social justice and Young’s (2001) history of African American participation in the field of IDT begins to address these questions. Bradshaw (2018) utilizes postmodern perspectives to discuss underrepresented groups in IDT history. Bradshaw’s (2018) work demonstrates the importance of contextualizing histories of IDT. It is necessary to seek understanding of the past through the social contexts that shape the period being investigated and the author’s writing about that period. For example, histories of IDT narrate history as it progresses through the mid-twentieth century. Very few works include references to historic social or cultural movements impacting society and consequently, education and technology. Bradshaw’s (2018) analysis draws attention to the social backdrop of IDT history by outlining the importance of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s from Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to visceral responses towards Emmitt Till’s murder. It is likely contributors to the field of IDT at that time would have been aware in some capacity of these events and even more likely those authoring IDT histories more recently would have knowledge of these events in historical hindsight. 

Aiming a critical race lens on IDT history, Young (2001, 2009) uncovers significant African American contributions to nineteenth- and twentieth-century IDT and emphasizes how African American roles as active producers and participants in the past have been “ignored, lost, destroyed, excluded, omitted, sporadically documented” (p. 671) and therefore, devalued by historical record. Herbert Aptheker, prolific African American historian, as quoted by Young (2001), underlined the realistic impacts of historical perspective and interpretation:

A Jim Crow society breeds and needs a Jim Crow historiography. The dominant historiography in the United States either omits the Negro people or presents them as a people without a past, as a people who have been docile, passive, parasitic, imitative. This picture is a lie. The Negro people, the most oppressed people in the United States, have been militant, active, creative, productive (p. 671).

Young’s histories deconstruct existing historical narratives regarding the African American population. She examines the cultural and racial instructional components of an 1866 newspaper textbook named The Freedman’s Torchlight and a 1920s monthly magazine known as The Brownies’ Book with an aim to document African Americans’ active engagement in educating their cultural and racial communities. Young’s research provides evidence and argument for the introduction of culturally responsive instructional design approaches and materials in IDT practice. Subramony (2018), Bradshaw (2018), and Young (2001, 2009) implore researchers and practitioners to understand that IDT’s history is embedded in historically significant social, racial, and cultural contexts – so too are the writers authoring IDT history. By recognizing the socio-cultural and political impacts of the time in which a history is being written from a critical perspective, consumers of IDT historical research may better understand the interpretive lens from which a researcher describes historical experiences. 

Directions for Future Historical Research in IDT

Given the issues, challenges, and varied perspectives on the exploration of IDT history, future scholars may wonder where to go from here. The history of IDT is still ripe for discovery and researchers have many opportunities and challenges to undertake as the field moves forward. Using the various philosophical perspectives and methods of historicism and postmodernism can serve to expand understanding, as both offer feasible approaches to history and historical research. The exploration of IDT history has been advanced by many IDT researchers mainly through the use of the historicist perspective. The addition of the postmodern perspective and related strategies hold potential to develop more robust and inclusive accounts of the evolution of the field. While there is much to be desired in the postmodern realm of IDT historical research, IDT benefits from viewing historicism and postmodernism as not only divergent, but complementary as well. Both perspectives leave room for future research and informative practice in the field of IDT. 

A Place for Historicism

Historicism maintains potential as a strategy for exploring the history of IDT and it is not the intention of the authors to suggest historical traditions be deserted completely. The authors suggest, as Munslow (1997) stated in Deconstructing History, that it “is not the only history we can have” (p. 178). IDT should continue the historical tradition and urge for rigorous use of archival primary and secondary documentation to support traditional approaches to historical research in IDT. According to Butler (1998), the AECT archive contains enough source material “for several dissertations or books as well as articles, monographs, and other publications and/or scholarly works” (p. 29). More recently, Ames’ (2015) dissertation developed a framework to identify the status and significance of IDT historical artifacts and confirmed the existing viability of the AECT archives for future research. Ames (2015) records:

The archives of AECT span the period from 1912 to 1984, with the bulk of the material dating from 1940 to 1970. The collection contains correspondence, articles, catalogs, convention material, minutes, reports, pamphlets, serials, teacher guides, bound ledgers and scrapbooks, catalog cards, and audio-visual material (including photographs, audio cassettes, audio reels, slides, and overheads (p. 5). 

Richey (2012) discusses a similar need for a rigorously detailed intellectual history of the IDT field in order to properly trace IDT’s theoretical roots before the 20th century because much of IDT history is narrowly focused on the period in which IDT comes into its own. A more robust exploration of the archives utilizing a historicist perspective and historical method in IDT is needed to detail practitioner work in the more recent past as well. Ames (2015) states “as long as the artifacts related to the field exist, and are organized and known, there are possibilities for their use, and the field will continue to be capable of enriching itself with new histories” (p. 12). The field needs traditionally documented histories in order to inform the future of ‘what works’. Researchers and practitioners better informed of the complexity and nuances of IDT’s historical past aid in better use and implementation of instructional technologies. IDT researchers and practitioners can learn by relying on the past). 

Awareness of the broad landscape of IDT history imparts better understanding for practitioners of technology implementation and adoption within education and instructional design approaches. However, critical historical analysis of the implementation, adoption, success, failure, and lifespan of instructional design approaches and technology aids IDT in making historically informed decisions about design, development, and implementation (Bull, 2016). Bull argues historical contextualization of the environments and the understanding of conditions in which instructional design approaches and technologies were successful or faile can assist IDT practitioners in future implementation and use in the classroom and online (Bull, 2016). Dousay and Janak’s (2018) article is an example of connecting IDT history and historical writing to current trends and understanding of instructional design and technology use. Dousay and Janak explore the history of educational radio to understand conceptualization and contemporary use of the MOOC. Another example is Shipley et al.’s (2018) examination of the historical changes in application of task analysis in instructional design or Branch and Dousay’s (2015) exploration of instructional design models. Thorough investigation of how instructional design and technology has been implemented in education in the past can build a usable knowledge base of lessons learned. Historiographical analysis of processes, outcomes, research, and best practices, may help understand what worked, under which conditions, and why. As posited by Bull (2016), attention to IDT history and how it is written facilitates valuable knowledge about the successes and failures of instructional design approaches and technology’s adoption and uses for educational purposes.

A Need for Postmodernism

Postmodernism remains a viable current approach, and used simultaneously alongside historicism, can be used to explore, question, and re-frame existing IDT histories. Because greater social and cultural awareness of IDT’s history and context will inform more holistic research and practice, IDT historical research should begin to reflect diversity currently represented in the field. Butler and De Vaney (1994) and Butler and Lockee (2016) have completed groundwork on women in IDT, but this work is only a small facet of women’s history and gender-related research still to be conducted. Thorough archival work on specific women identified as past leaders in the field may reveal more fully the extent of their participation and contributions. Triangulation of oral testimony, secondary source documentation, and archival reference will empirically support previous and future research. For example, many early women of IDT came directly from teaching in school systems and safeguard important “ways of knowing” related to instructional design principles (De Vaney & Butler, 2001). A social history approach – oral history – looking at women’s roles within schooling as curriculum designers or lesson planners in teaching may reveal familiar instructional design heuristics endemic in IDT today. 

Postmodern questioning of IDT histories unveils new local narratives regarding intersected communities centered on gender, race, class, sexuality, and more. Subramony (2018) urges IDT to consider LGBTQI+ perspectives in learning and instructional design. The history of sexual and gender identity stretches across centuries, but has largely been ignored. Examining historical representations and lack thereof in instructional media, textbooks, and curriculum could reveal paths forward for culturally responsive learning and instructional design in practice. Practitioners are better able to implement culturally relevant or responsive design when the cultural, social, and historical background exists to bolster use of the approach as valuable to contemporary instruction. Equally, Young’s (2001) examination of The Freedman’s Torchlight demonstrates that education’s mainstream instructional materials and approaches are continuously centric to IDT investigations. The Freedman’s Torchlight is one example of African Americans’ historical struggle over education. Young (2009) also examines DuBois’ creation and dissemination of The Brownies’ Book, a monthly magazine created to educate children, primarily black children, about childhood, self-love, and racial pride – culturally informed learning. Informal education environments and resources throughout history need to be closely examined because historically undervalued communities, through resilient and resourceful efforts, design instructional approaches, materials, and technologies to learn and impart diverse ways of knowing (Kendi, 2016; Young, 2001, 2009). Similar to Young’s work, if a broader array of historical examples are evident in IDT histories, researchers and practitioners might be better positioned or informed to draw on these approaches to implement culturally informed or responsive designs.

IDT research and practice pursued in countries around the world have histories and cultures that influence design and development and use of technologies in education. This article is primarily US focused because of the origin of most traditional IDT history. Shifting historical perspectives in research and practice encourages expanding to include histories internationally. Rigorous research agendas and practitioner work exist in IDT around the world and thus, histories exist globally on the development of IDT. New approaches may guide research and practice to move beyond Western or Euro-centric views. Existing IDT written histories represent the historical trajectory of IDT in one socio-cultural context in US history. Alshahrani’s (2016) exploration of the spread and adoption of the internet in Saudi-Arabian history is an example of how, historically, technology is accepted and used in education in other cultures. Chinese and Japanese academics have thousands of years of history with strong cultural traditions in learning, teaching, and curriculum design within institutionalized education systems (Jansen, 2000; Spence, 1990). Molenda (2008) touches briefly on non-Western perspectives on IDT history by explaining aspects of the foundations of IDT in Asia, but there is more to be unveiled. If knowledge, even historical knowledge, is socially and culturally constructed, there are many social and cultural histories that converge with IDT history yet to be explored. Educating Future IDT Scholars and Practitioners

One of the last implications for shifting the approach or lens on IDT history is the impact on IDT’s future generations - researchers and practitioners alike. Providing new ways to re-think the IDT historical timeline and shifting the perspective or approach provides new historical knowledge regarding the foundations of the field of IDT. Students in IDT programs are more often than not taught basics of IDT history featuring foundational texts focused on signpost events (Molenda, 2008: Reiser, 2001a, 2001b, 2017a, 2017b; Saettler, 2004). The field’s current understanding of IDT history is perpetuated in each new class of graduating students. Introduction of new histories of the field emphasizing a plethora of perspectives and experiences provides foundational literature to support future research and practice. The education of students in IDT will also better reflect diversity of the field writ large, as well as philosophically and pragmatically influence designer decision-making toward more inclusive practices.


George Santayana (1905) argued “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (p. 284). The field of IDT requires historical analysis as a compass to prevent repeating narratives from the past that offer little assistance to researchers or practitioners currently in the field. As such, this article reviewed some of the prominent written histories collected from the IDT field and, using a historiographic analysis, argues IDT history stands as a guide, but also leaves ample room to expand on. By analyzing current IDT histories to provide guidance for the future and expanding IDT history to be more inclusive of various experiences, this article opens doors for current and future researchers and practitioners to support their work. A nuanced approach to history allows the field of IDT to dive back into the history of the field by examining historical moments more critically to learn from past experiences, and to include experiences more broadly representing race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and culture which have contributed to the evolution and development of IDT. A predicted outcome of employing a historiographical approach to the history of IDT may be the growth of the field through inclusion of those with a minimal or non-existent presence in the current histories. It is imperative the field of IDT remain culturally competent and responsive.

Current designers, instructors, and researchers representing the field model behaviors desired for future members of the field. From Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1997) when people see others modeling a behavior, the more like "us" the modeller is, the more inclined one is to believe they can perform the behavior being modeled. With researchers and practitioners more aware of historiographic analysis and historical perspective (i.e., modeling), IDT’s future histories can be more inclusive and tell a narrative including more people “like us” – the inclusivity of all scholars and practitioners in IDT. Likewise, with research informing practice related to IDT histories influenced by multiple historical perspectives, history can model how to proceed or not to proceed in the design, development, and evaluation of instruction in various contexts. Practitioners can learn from what did not or did work related to instructional interventions and technologies implemented in learning contexts from the past.

 The idea of including a historiographic approach to IDT’s history is about opening the doors to IDT’s past even wider, to show the field the array of people, places, and events which brought IDT to where IDT is today. This article merely scratches the surface of methods of historical analysis or historical perspectives and the layers of IDT history. Only a small portion of historical methods and perspectives have been explored thus far, leaving a wealth of uncovered knowledge and opportunities for future research informing practice. A historiographical evaluation of IDT history provides a critical understanding of how the history of IDT has been researched, written, and discussed in the literature. Increased awareness of historical approaches such as those described herein elucidate the impact of varying methodologies in the representation of perspectives brought forward, perspectives left behind, or those left out completely. Using historiography, this article demonstrates views about history and how approaches constrain or cultivate understanding of IDT’s past in hopes of directing IDT’s historical research and practitioner agenda towards a more holistic future. The field of IDT has a diverse history that, when examined through new philosophical lenses and documented with new analytical approaches, will open opportunities for present and future researchers and practitioners of the IDT community to see more clearly the true breadth and depth of the field’s past and future potential. It will encourage growth in the field that serves a global community and acknowledge the diverse communities that represent the strength of the field.


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Rebecca Clark-Stallkamp

East Carolina University

Rebecca Clark-Stallkamp is an assistant professor of Instructional Technology in the MSITE department at East Carolina University. She researches using argumentation as apedagogical tool to manage cognitive uncertainty in ill-structured problem solving, and gender histories of instructional design and technology.
Alicia L. Johnson

Virginia Tech

Alicia Johnson, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Instructional Design and Technology at Virginia Tech. Her areas of research are self-efficacy in asynchronous online learning environments and experiential learning in face-to-face, blended, and online learning environments.
Barbara Lockee

Virginia Tech

Dr. Barbara B. Lockee is a professor of education at Virginia Tech. She received her B.S. in communications media and her M.A. in curriculum and instruction from Appalachian State University. She received a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with concentration in instructional technology from Virginia Tech. She has authored or coauthored more than 90 publications. Her awards and honors include the XCaliber Award for Excellence in Courseware Development in 2000 and the Clifton Garvin Fellowship in 2002.

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