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Arnold Gesell’s Photographic Dome for studying normal babies. Image from: Arnold Gesell, Infancy and Human Growth (New York: Macmillan, 1928), p. 51.

Project (2018-)

Children of Science: Development, Psychology, and Visual Media Technology in Arnold Gesell's Developmental Psychology (1911–1953)

My dissertation project, a visual history of developmental psychology, investigates interrelations of visual media technology and concepts of normal child development in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Based on the visual research practices and developmental theory of Arnold Gesell, a renowned child development expert, the dissertation examines epistemological, social, and political conditions, and consequences of Gesell’s developmental knowledge.

In Child Study Centers all over North America, child development researchers were seeking ways to measure, predict, and control normal human growth and development. At the Yale Clinic of Child Development, psychologist and physician Arnold Gesell used photographic and film technologies to develop a method for a painstaking study of developmental stages of infants, consisting of: the Photographic Dome, which housed a laboratory, observatory, and film studio; the Photographic Research Library, which maintained an archive for the temporalization of developmental data; and the Cinemanalysis for “dissecting” children who were recorded on film. In this unique research setting, developmental theory and media technology encountered children and psychology. Making use of photographs, drawings, and film, Gesell molded an understanding of children’s developmental nature in a diverse range of academic disciplines and child-related professions as well as among parents. Gesell’s developmental psychology considered the understanding of a child’s individual development to be the foundation of a democratic society.

The complexities resulting from Gesell’s study of normal development offer insight into the intersecting effects of visual technology and the human sciences, especially as they shaped theories of normal human behavior and their performance both inside and outside of the laboratory. Focusing on the material and visual aspects of Gesell’s developmental psychology, this study explores a shared history of psychology, children, and development.