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Commercialised History: Popular History Magazines in Europe

Approaches to a Historico-Cultural Phenomenon as the Basis for History Teaching

Edited By Susanne Popp, Jutta Schumann and Miriam Hannig

This volume of essays is the result of the EU project «EHISTO», which dealt with the mediation of history in popular history magazines and explored how history in the commercialised mass media can be used in history teaching in order to develop the media literacy and the transcultural competences of young people. The volume offers articles which for the first time address the phenomenon of popular history magazines in Europe and their mediating strategies in a foundational way. The articles are intended as introductory material for teachers and student teachers. The topic also offers an innovative approach in terms of making possible a European cross-country comparison, in which results based on qualitative and quantitative methods are presented, related to the content focus areas profiled in the national magazines.
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The Function and use of image documents in German popular history magazines

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Michael Wobring

The function and use of image documents in German popular history magazines

This contribution will consider, with particular emphasis on methodology, the diverse image inventory of popular history magazines, in order to analyse and understand such imagery and to offer examples of its use. Analytical approaches and categories will be developed (grounded in examples taken from German magazine culture) which can capture and categorise what lies behind the use of popular images in relation to the presentation of history in such magazines. Analytical examples, sketched here, may offer possibilities for further comparative analyses of images in popular history magazines.

History didactics is alive to the relevance of the visual aspects and impacts of popular magazines (henceforth ‘history magazines’). These includes many more design elements than the mere reproduction of pictures in the iconic sense. Such elements affect the way content is presented and understood, with consequent advantages and drawbacks for conveying history to a broad lay-audience, as we shall see. Additionally, this ← 195 | 196 → contribution will consider how the image inventory of individual magazine issues or entire series may be understood and analysed. However, the manifold possibilities by which these inventories might be generally accounted for and analysed stretch methodological approaches to the limit, given both the variety of picture types and also the number of pictures used. The main focus of this contribution is therefore to carry out an exemplary analysis of the use of images in history magazines, and to formulate statements about the ‘quality’ of the use of images, from the point of view of history didactics. This is grounded in common categories of historical work with image sources in order to formulate standards for the use of pictures in the respective magazine-domain.1 Additionally and in conclusion, this contribution will consider what effects the basic structure of the respective magazine type, its size, and the function of its magazine elements, may have on the featured images. Analysis is carried out on the basis of a limited sample of four popular history magazines in Germany, which have been on the market for a long time, DAMALS, G/GESCHICHTE, GEO EPOCHE and P.M. HISTORY.2

1. The relevance of the visual design of popular scientific magazines

Whereas academic transmission of specialist historical knowledge occurs via specialist publications and professional journals in what has traditionally been rather an ‘image-hostile’ way (as well as a predominantly text and language-based one), popular conveyance of such matters is strongly underpinned by pictures, which are in the broadest sense used illustratively. As regards the use of images, the academic or academically-oriented presentation of history generally distinguishes between the use of a picture functioning as a ‘source’ and its illustrative use as ‘presentation’. Firstly, and regardless of the meaning which can be attributed to the use of pictures for the presentation and the transmission of history in popular magazines, the comprehensive and basic function of the complex visual design of the magazines has to be pointed out.

The magazine’s visual design comprises every form of graphic and typographic design in addition to the image documents used, (which are the focus of the following examination), as well as the visual appearance ← 196 | 197 → of the printing substrate and the technical processing of the magazine. Together, their interaction results in the overall aesthetic effect.3 These design elements, it is generally understood, decisively underpin how the topic is conveyed to the audience and influence the audience’s decision about whether or not to be interested in the magazine, and to buy or consume it. History didactics characterises this overall effect (which is achieved by different design elements and which invests a historical topic) as the aesthetic dimension of a historico-cultural phenomenon.4

Popular history magazines have to hold their own in a highly competitive and permanently changing market for the popular transmission and presentation of history, which also takes in other popular history services including a diverse event culture.5 Rivalry between different history magazines is permanently deepened through fierce competition with the presentation of history in other media formats, especially TV documentaries, films, websites and the non-fiction culture. In addition, new history magazines often enter the market as offshoots of established publication institutions with more or less permanent success. Besides history magazines, popular magazines can also be found which are connected to other ← 197 | 198 → research areas.6 What all these media have in common is their intensive use of images and other visual design elements.

As well as generating a vivid illusion and a powerful affective response, pictures seem to make possible the easy capture of complex matters. This gives them a central role in history magazines.7 Images and visual design elements take on an indispensable mediating function for the audience, which may outweigh the impact of the subject-matter. The visual features of the magazine, along with the choice of topic, are crucial for establishing and maintaining the magazine in the market for popular history products. A glance at the magazine retail industry shows that the impact of an individual magazine, and its differentiation from competing products, is not possible without a target-group-focused image culture and a visual aesthetics which is responsive to the culture, expectations and habits of the viewing audience, which thereby influences and shapes the magazine. Consequently, the target-group-focused design of the cover page has a crucial function.

This fact carries opportunities and drawbacks in relation to the presentation of history to a lay-audience. In principle, pictures communicate faster than text. They seem to be more quickly accessible and to affect the recipient prior to the interpretation of the text.8 Pictures shape the first impression and are thus influential since they are easily associated with ← 198 | 199 → and linked to, pictures remembered from other contexts.9 Additionally, they also bring with them modes of response related to specific topics or historical periods and, some say, the ‘aura’ or ‘aesthetics’ of a historical event or topic. Since these features have a decisive effect on the purchase decision, magazine producers look to utilise them. Matters which do not have any relation to image-presentation, e.g. theories, processes, constitutions or orders, are less suitable for this conceptualisation and accordingly less often found in history magazines.

In general, however, images and their effect on the viewer cannot be fully controlled. These characteristics of image documents, which are not seen as unproblematic by history didactics, have led to the establishment of rules and standards for the use of images in research and teaching.10 Not only do these rules address the referencing, verifiability and provability of a document, (matters to be discussed at a later stage), but also their choice and use in the given context. In this way, either the image’s function as a source, or its function as a representative illustration of the subject-matter, has to be taken into consideration when choosing an image document. Furthermore, pictures used for illustration cannot replace explanation or argument in the text, or be used in their stead.

Knowledge about rules and standards relating to appropriate picture-use cannot be assumed in the broad audience for popular magazines or in the interested layperson. Additionally, this audience is unlikely to notice when these standards go unobserved by editors or when they are applied inappropriately, partially or in a merely cosmetic way. From the point of view of history didactics, the issue is how far standards have been observed when it comes to deploying pictures in popular history magazines in order to provide the viewer with the possibility for evaluating and assessing such usage. This has resulted in a framework of criteria for understanding image inventories and the assessment of the picture presentation in the respective magazines, as will be illustrated in what follows. ← 199 | 200 →

2. Recording and analysing the picture inventory of popular scientific history magazines

When taking into account history magazine illustrations, the variety and multitude of images present poses a problem for every methodological approach which aims at reaching generally applicable conclusions regarding the magazines’ illustrative culture. For instance, a single issue of the magazine GEO EPOCHE may contain more than 140 individual pictures. Each picture can be categorised and analysed in various ways. In addition to the sheer number of pictures there is also the variety of kinds of picture reproduced from all epochs, which in general include all forms of, and techniques for, creating pictures. Depictions of mobile or immobile objects of every kind form a large part. Moreover, there are photographic depictions of text documents from all epochs, which may include all possible forms of text creation or reproduction. Pictures which do not reflect historical originals or objects, but are artefacts created photographically for illustrative purposes when the magazine was produced, form their own group. These include e.g. animal photography, or photos of plants or landscapes. They do not introduce additional material regarding a particular event, location or era. A further area is that of didactic material, which may include e.g. reproductions of thematic maps, graphical formatting of data, information charts of any kind and (scientific) illustrations.

The aim of this discussion of the picture inventory is, first of all, to arrive at conclusions about the ‘quality’ of the popular use of images in magazines. Among the wide range of possible quantitative and qualitative surveys, pictures are categorised here according to features which will be further introduced and analysed when considering aspects of history didactics. In order to reach conclusions about the culture of image use, standards are formulated based on history didactics. In this way the picture inventory shall be linked to the historical events. In particular, pictures are analysed according to their degree of compliance with the standards of technically-correct usage of image documents (which will be explained below). Recording the pictures deployed in a magazine thus means classifying every single depiction of an issue according to a given set of features.

Irrespective of the main area of analysis focused on for the evaluation of the culture of image use from the perspective of history didactics as ← 200 | 201 → chosen here, analyses of pictures may also engage with a number of other areas, e.g. the image creation techniques, the genres of the depictions or the specific contents of the individual pictures. Depending on the level of epistemological interest shown, these surveys may also be linked to other areas of examination, e.g. one aimed at the magazine contents, its topics, the design of the cover pages, the textual and linguistic design, or the behaviour of recipients.11

A survey of the individual pictures in an issue of a magazine may be based for example on the sum of pictures in an article. The number of such pictures used is determined according to how many meet the individual features of a predetermined catalogue of criteria. The pictures of an article are categorised and counted multiple times and considered in relation to this catalogue. In what follows, possible focus areas of the survey (in line with a data base structure carried out in ‘tables’) and the concomitant survey criteria are sketched out.

One survey (‘table 1’) records the pictures and their temporal connection to the depicted historical event. Contemporary pictures, which coincide with the historical event dealt with, are clearly to be discerned from the pictures created afterwards. The time frame is consequently set by the topic of the article.12 Regarding the time frame in which the magazine was produced, one can differentiate between historicised pictures, i.e. those technically or artistically formed to match the time dealt with, and contemporary pictures, often photographs, which were especially made for the magazine issue. Photographic depictions of historical objects form their own subcategory, which may include depictions of book pages or other text documents in separate categories. The didactical material, maps, information graphics, diagrams, etc., which originate from the time in which the magazine was produced, would also have to be classified separately. ← 201 | 202 →

In a further survey (‘table 2’) the number of pictures in an article is related to the way history is mediated. This evaluation deals with the observance of necessary standards of source work, which enable the examination of individual documents. This survey in particular provides information about the use of pictures in popular culture, something which is to be further illustrated. This survey records the number of pictures presented and used as ‘source-material’ due to their complying with standards, in contrast to others, whose use is prevented. These standards include e.g. a list of references as well as indications of whether the complete picture or only a detail was displayed, possible interference with the content of the picture, or manipulative retouching or colour changes, such as the black-and-white reproduction of a coloured original or the later colouring of a black-and-white picture.

Pictures whose use is illustrative have to be further distinguished. Subject-relevant illustrations, whose use is valuable for historical understanding, can be differentiated from subject-irrelevant illustrations, in which a connection to the historical topic and to the mediacy of history is (from a didactical point of view) missing. Subject-relevant illustrations are documents which for example cannot be used as ‘sources’ due to missing proof, but which are suitable for the illustration of the topic. For instance, a contemporary portrait photograph of a historical person, which is not further documented or explained, may illustrate the topic dealt with in an adequate way.

Subject-irrelevant illustrations, however, are not useful for developing historical understanding from the point of view of history didactics. The standards described were not considered in the choice and the editing of the document. In the choice and use of manifold kinds of pictures considered here the emotional potential of the documents is paramount, such as for example the assumed atmosphere of a historical event, the aura of a lifeworld or an epoch’s attitude towards life. Some pictures are often used to entertain, to create amusement, suspense, drama or other moods. These pictures include stills from modern films used instead of contemporary picture sources, pictures of details from historical paintings which go without explanation, picture montages or modern historicised picture creations. (In the following, this variety of image use is summarised under the category ‘entertainment’ for simplification purposes).

From the point of view of history didactics such use of images does not contribute to historical understanding, but poses new problems. It enables ← 202 | 203 → supposedly conclusive (but frequently erroneous) knowledge about past events to be conveyed in an unhistorical way. Pictures add atmosphere or aesthetics to the events depicted, of a kind which the historian in fact cannot be certain of and often cannot reconstruct. Moreover, this form of presentation mingles with documents that can certifiably be used as sources, and with subject-relevant illustrations. The interested layperson can neither recognise this culture of image use nor differentiate it without expert knowledge.

Further studies which are aimed at recording picture types and picture contents shall not be undertaken for this analysis, because they are relatively less significant with regard to the culture of use of the image inventory. However, as they may be helpful for further comparative analyses of the way images and texts are used in history magazines, they shall be addressed. Such surveys can be linked to the previous surveys (table 1 and 2) depending on the focus of the analysis.

Due to the wide range of picture types, the image inventory will be classified based on the underlying image creation techniques. In practice, depictions within popular magazines exhibit the entire range of techniques used to create and edit images, from all cultures and epochs, from prehistoric cave paintings to present-day graphics, which are created digitally. Techniques to create and edit images have multiplied continuously since Early Modern Times,13 but so has the amount of historical picture material which has survived.

A further categorisation can be carried out according to the respective image media in which the picture was used or disseminated at its time of creation. The amount of media in which pictures were used has increased since the late 19th century in particular. Traditional, established (text) media, such as books, magazines or newspapers have become increasingly illustrated. Text-picture-arrangements can also be found in placards and postcards, which have become popular since that time.

A further, yet very laborious analysis, of the picture inventory would aim at the iconographic recording of picture contents. In this kind of study it is necessary to record the picture content of each individual ← 203 | 204 → document according to several categories or subcategories. Terms and notions thereby have to be expanded and differentiated depending on the main focus area of the history magazine’s topic. Recording data in this way might also follow the established subject indexing systems of museums. The most widespread subject indexing system internationally is classification according to the system ‘Iconclass’ operated from the Netherlands.14 A classification of the picture inventory according to this system would enable links to international collections and picture databases, and thereby open up manifold research and examination possibilities.

By recording specific picture contents, features of the culture of image use in the respective magazine-fields may emerge. The picture inventory of individual magazines could use certain genres, for example, or spectacular picture presentations of turmoil or battles, to create suspense more frequently than is the case in other magazines.

The analysis of the use of pictures in the respective magazines requires standards, which facilitate reaching general conclusions about the history-didactical ‘quality’ of the use of the image.15 Criteria are necessary for the evaluation of the popular use of images according to defined quality levels. In line with the basic purpose of the history magazines, the underlying criteria start with the question of the extent to which picture material aims at conveying history. In this way quality levels may be formulated for the culture of image use as variously enacted, i.e. the choice of documents and the mode of presentation.

The highest quality in terms of indication, (one, however, not striven for by popular scientific culture and thus unable to be used as the standard) is the scientific standard employed by historians in dealing with image ← 204 | 205 → documents16 following the general rules of source studies.17 Representatively chosen image documents may, for instance, be used as proof of hypotheses or, in relation to certain issues, for scientifically-required purposes of illustration. The image document itself may be the object of research and extensive examination in terms of creation, picture content, use, effect and historical tradition. Similarly, the circumstances of the publication, its dissemination, reception and effect, are often the object of scientific analyses. A scientific presentation of image documents aimed at this requires corresponding information on verifiability. The origin of the reproduced original has to be indicated, as well as the location where the document is stored. As a matter of principle, information on authorship, the time of origin, the picture creation technique, the sizes of the originals as well as indications to do with any change of size of the reproduced image (through cropping or other kinds of manipulation of the image content) is required. In general, every transmitted piece of knowledge regarding the creation, use, dissemination and reception of the picture may be relevant to a scientific use. Despite this differentiation of the methodological standards, in expert practice they are not always stringently adhered to.

Popular culture does not strive to comply with these extensive scientific standards completely. Editors of magazines may not even be aware of these standards, and their relevance for a scientific perspective. Already the choice of pictures in the magazine may not meet the representativeness required from a scientific point of view. An image culture which is in line with the target group’s ideas about the topics, or in agreement with the visual style of the magazine, generally seems more important to the magazine producers. In this context, a scientific labelling of the documents by means of detailed references and additional information may create confusion, or have an over-tax the audience. Moreover, for most historical ← 205 | 206 → topics which date back to before the Early Modern Period, contemporary picture material is scarcely if at all available.

Quality levels can be described grounded in these considerations for the analysis of the use of images in popular history magazines. In general, these magazines do not address the subject expert, but an audience of interested lay-readers. The genuine mediating intention of the respective popular magazine shall not be considered initially. The criteria are again described from the point of view of history didactics.

From this perspective, it would be reasonable to expect a ‘scientifically oriented’ use of image. Image documents addressing a lay audience are supposed to support the mediacy of history in an appropriate way. So any documentary feature of the pictures should be considered in terms of source studies.

The choice and editing of an image document would have to take into account the extent to which the document is thematically related to and representative of the subject matter. The topic has to stand in a causal relation to the content of the text. It would have to exhibit a geographic and temporal proximity to the historical event (as long as it is not about reception-historical perspectives), and feature indications of origin, time of creation and the originator. In this way, the interested layperson could verify the document. The content would have to be accessible and understandable for the layperson’s independent use without expert knowledge.

The choice and editing of the documents would have to be clearly distinguished from the pictures which are used in the same context, but which cannot encompass source features for the historical event, e.g. a scene from a historical film or a present-day photo montage. Likewise, compensating some topics’ lack of picture sources through the use of images created later, e.g. historical paintings or film images, would be impermissible. Alternatively, didactical picture material could be used. These aspects already meet essential criteria which should constitute a good popular scientific use of images from the point of view of history didactics.

Individual features here named can be determined by the presentation of the pictures and recorded for the individual magazines in a comparative way. If the images in a magazine are edited in a different way than that described by one of these criteria, or if features appear which run contrary to this approach, then corresponding quality levels can be formulated. ← 206 | 207 →

Eventually, the use of images merges into an area which has to be indicated as ‘remote from scientific research’ or ‘unscientific’. In such cases the standards described are partially or completely disregarded. This becomes apparent in e.g. an anachronistic choice of images such as those often found to illustrate medieval topics, for example film images or 19th century historical paintings.18 Furthermore, it is frequently found that picture details are used without proper indication. Additionally, other features may include incomplete or absent references regarding the subject matter, or the geographic and temporal categorisation of the documents, which hinders the reader from verifying the documents. Instead, the seeming authenticity of the images (created by the supposedly realistic and – in the narrative of the image – reasonably implemented presentation of historical events) leads the reader to perceive them as evidence for the historical topic dealt with.

The transition to a ‘quasi scientific’ presentation, a further quality level of the use of images (usually in connection with a corresponding presentation of the topic), can be fluent. It is a characteristic that the habitus of academia – observing the methods and standards – is merely sought for the sake of appearance. So for instance picture montages can be found which mix reality and fiction.19

From the point of view of history didactics, presenting image documents in this way does not have any value for the conveyance of history in relation to the depicted historical topic. The choice of pictures and their use are frequently informed by the pursuit of different aims. These picture presentations, often highly emotive, primarily serve the purpose of entertainment ← 207 | 208 → or dramatisation. The magazine producers do not have to be aware of the problems which such a use of history or historical documents entails.

3. Comparative considerations on the image inventory and on the culture of the use of image documents

In what follows, evaluations of four German history magazines are exemplarily compared.20 The aim of the analysis is to substantiate conclusions about the culture of image use in the respective magazine concepts and to categorise them from the point of view of history didactics according to evaluation criteria as previously described. With the exception of GEO EPOCHE, these magazines contain topics from other epochs in addition to the cover topic. Consequently the available image repertoire to which editors could have reverted is vast. The chosen issue of GEO EPOCHE focuses on a topic, ‘Prussia’, which does not lack image sources.

The sum of all illustrations of each magazine (equals 100%, see cart 1, pillar 1) acts as the foundation. Consequently, the temporal reference to the historical event presented was recorded (see ‘table 1’ above) as well as the image document’s connection to the mediacy of history (see ‘table 2’ above). Each magazine article was recorded separately and added to the total amount of the magazines.21

For this purpose, the amount of contemporary presentations, in line with the topic of the respective article (pillar 2), was recorded.22 By contrast, the ← 208 | 209 → pictures which were created later and which are not from the time period of the historical event, were recorded separately (pillar 3). The modern pictures which were created at the time in which the magazine was produced are also differentiated (pillar 4). Likewise, those illustrations were recorded which are from the present, but artificially historicised to meet the temporal proximity of the topics dealt with (pillar 5). Even before taking into account the image presentation required for the evaluation of the profile of the inventory, this category has to be considered with great attention. The number of modern, but artificially historicised, pictures can be regarded as problematic from the point of view of history didactics (as long as it is not the object of attention), since such picture creations cannot have any source connection to the historical event.

From the point of view of history didactics, the analysis of the choice and editing of the document with regard to the conveyance of history is decisive for the classification of the image use. So the amount of those pictures which are presented as sources is recorded, i.e. those which observe the minimal indication of geographic, topical and temporal categorisation as well as source references. A further criterion is that a possible change to the image (for example by manipulative retouching or cropping) is indicated. Likewise, the image has to be reproduced in a sufficient size so that all picture elements, especially the details, can be recognised (pillar 6). This is distinguished from the illustrative or presentational use of pictures (pillar 7). This kind of use exhibits history didactical value if it contributes to the subject-relevant mediacy of the topic. A portrait picture of the person focused on in the topic, for instance, which is not presented as source due to lacking the minimal standards listed, can contribute to the mediacy of the topic in an illustrative way.

In a further category, those pictures are recorded whose illustrative use has no connection to the conveyance of the chapter’s topic, or which even runs counter to it from the point of view of history didactics (pillar 8). This kind of picture serves entertainment purposes due to its content and emotional substance, as already outlined. A further category is the illustrative use of pictures as text replacement (pillar 9). In such cases, a choice or a connected series of aligned pictures follows the topic title. These pictures may cover several pages or even the entire chapter with merely a minimal amount of explanation, or with none. The aesthetic effect of the pictures ← 209 | 210 → on the recipient shapes the impression of the subject matter, an impression unresourced by any text able to influence it through structure, explanation or comment.

Chart 1: Quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the picture inventory of individual magazine issues [in percent]


← 210 | 211 →

The issue of DAMALS which was examined contained 77 illustrations on 84 magazine pages. Its profile indicates that predominantly contemporary image material (DAMALS, column 2, 77%) is included, with hardly any later-created illustrations (column 3, 4%). The issue comprises 15 present-day modern illustrations (column 4, 19%) and two modern historicised picture presentations (column 5). The largest part of the image inventory was almost completely processed in relation to the necessary standards and could function as source-material in the presented form (column 6, 84%). Only 10 pictures were used for the thematically oriented illustration of the subject matter dealt with (column 7, 13%). Two pictures merely were used without subject reference (column 8). None of the pictures in this issue was used without explanation, as related to the category-function of completely serving as replacement for text (column 9).

With 172 magazine pages and 138 pictures the issue of GEO EPOCHE is almost double the size of DAMALS. The largest part of the picture repertoire (GEO EPOCHE, 110 items, 80%) is contemporary (column 2). Later and modern images occur 16 times each in this issue (columns 3 and 4, 12%). 14 modern historicised depictions are contained (column 5, 10%). Furthermore, a mere 54 pictures, i.e. less than half, can be used as source-material in accordance with the standards (column 6, 39%). An almost comparable proportional share is illustrative (column 7, 37%). 14 pictures serve as illustrations to create atmosphere and for entertaining purposes (column 8, 10%). It is striking that the remaining inventory, comprising 42 items of mostly large-scale reproduced pictures, operated as text replacement according to the definition established previously (column 9, 30%).

The reason for the relatively small share of pictures which can be used as source-material due to their presentation lies in the lack of compliance with the standards.23 In this issue of GEO EPOCHE source references are often missing. The magazine does contains information on where the original documents are stored, but this, however, is no source-reference in the sense used in historical source studies. Pictures created later (column 3) are ← 211 | 212 → often not indicated as such. The number of modern historicised pictures (column 5) is also problematic. The use of picture-details often goes unindicated. Furthermore, individual pictures are printed in far too small a size despite the large page format, so that they cannot be used as sources.

If issues of the magazines P.M. HISTORY and G/GESCHICHTE are also considered, it becomes apparent that fewer contemporary materials are used in the two magazines, but each has approximately the same share of modern picture material (columns 2 and 4). From the 120 pictures in P.M. HISTORY fewer than 40 pictures are contemporary (column 2, 31%). 42 pictures are modern depictions from the time the magazine was produced. Furthermore it is striking that in this issue only about one-third of the pictures can be used as source-material (column 6, 32%). Far more pictures are used for illustrative purposes (column 7, 41%). In comparison to the other magazines P.M. HISTORY has the largest share of pictures (19 pictures, 16%) which are illustrative, or used for entertaining purposes and for the creation of suspense (column 8). Regarding the use of pictures without a connection to the text, P.M. HISTORY, with 9 pictures, lags far behind GEO EPOCHE (column 9, 8%). However the issue of G/GESCHICHTE contains no pictures that serve as text replacement (column 9). The same is true of DAMALS.

The magazine-profiles examined enable the use of pictures to be interpreted. So far there is no indication that an expansion of the amount of data in studies of further issues of the same magazines would consolidate the profile of the columns. Whereas in the first part of the study (table 1, columns 1 to 5) a profile of the picture inventory emerges, the second part (table 2, columns 6 to 9) delineates a profile of the culture of the editorial use of images, which is established for a magazine. It also seems to be the case that a decline in the number of pictures presented as sources (column 6 each) leads to the growth of the other three columns (columns 7 to 9).

In general, the appearance of modern historicised pictures (column 5) is problematic in the repertoire if they are not themselves the object of the discussion and their problematic nature goes unexamined. Modern historicised picture creations subvert basic assumptions of historical documents and scientific source work. High values in the columns 8 and 9 are also indicative of a problematic culture of image use from the perspective of history didactics. Regarding the use of different picture types as examined ← 212 | 213 → here, the emotional potential of the documents is paramount in both cases. Such usage supposedly conveys the moods of an event, or the aura of a lifeworld or an epoch even though we are not familiar with it.

If the magazine issues which have been examined are categorised based on these findings then it follows that the history magazine DAMALS represents a high quality level of popular image use as regards the choice and presentation of the documents. The approach is clearly scientifically oriented, aimed at the mediacy of history, and to a great extent meets the criteria of history didactics.

Based on the features described, the magazines GEO EPOCHE and G/GESCHICHTE are to be classified on an evidently lower level of quality of image use. In both magazines modern historicised pictures are used. In GEO EPOCHE this share is, at 10%, comparatively the highest. Similarly high and likewise at 10% is the share of pictures used in an illustrative way and employed for entertainment purposes. In this respect, GEO EPOCHE is only superseded by P.M. HISTORY. GEO EPOCHE also stands out regarding its use of pictures without connection to the text. This phenomenon shall be examined more closely later. DAMALS and G/GESCHICHTE, in contrast, do not use any pictures in this way. More­over, the share of modern historicised pictures in G/GESCHICHTE is, at 5%, only half as large compared to GEO EPOCHE. The profile of the picture culture of G/GESCHICHTE is in this specific case to be regarded as on a higher level from the point of view of history didactics than that of GEO EPOCHE. P.M. HISTORY’s comparatively most prominent use of pictures for entertainment purposes is problematic. Additionally, the magazine strikingly often reverts to presentations of pictures created later and to modern present-day images (columns 3 and 4). P.M. HISTORY exceeds the other three magazines in this area too.

4. The effects of the magazine structure on the use of images

The functions of the picture inventory of history magazines (as well as those of other visual design elements) can basically be described as twofold. Firstly the picture inventory serves to convey ‘history’. Secondly illustration and design fulfil their function in the respective magazine concept by acquiring the target group, whose expectations and habits have, if possible, to be met ← 213 | 214 → continuously. Furnishing a magazine with thematic content materialised via texts and pictures generally follows a prescribed structure and is based on rules which are closely connected to the respective magazine type.24

This basic structure is also aimed at the reception and interpretation of the respective magazine type by the consumer. The reading behaviour and the reading environment can be very diverse for magazine perusal.25 Each issue of the magazine generally adhered to this structure and at best merely modified it slightly. The structure of the magazine must be regarded as part of its nature. Fundamental changes in the structure of an established concept may run contrary to the habits of the established audience and have an influence on the market success of a magazine.26 Structural types which can be found in the four magazine examples are established in the magazine culture in general and have not emerged in the format of history magazines in particular. They were simply adopted by editors or, in the case of GEO EPOCHE and P.M. HISTORY, adapted from the core magazine and decked out with historical topics.

The framework structure of the magazines also results in specifications about the choice and use of the pictorial material. This concerns, depending on the size of the magazine, the number of pictures in the entire repertoire of the magazine and the relation of pictorial and textual elements. The structural specifications, however, also result in whether it is possible to print pictures on a full or double page or to have space available for the reproduction of picture series and long picture galleries. Regarding the illustration of shorter articles, however, the topics have to be continuously advertised with expressive pictures. In this way the basic structure of the magazine can determine the culture of image use.

In the following section, concise structural elements of the magazines under examination are considered with regard to their use of images. Since the structures of the magazines P.M. HISTORY, G/GESCHICHTE and DAMALS are generally similar, the magazines DAMALS and GEO EPOCHE shall be foregrounded. ← 214 | 215 →

The organising structure of a magazine can be illustrated and considered in different ways. The layout, the design of all pages of a magazine in numerical sequence, and the relation between the text and the picture can all be recorded. Text and picture elements are thereby considered in relation to the page surface and (such as in the analysis of school books) calculated proportionately.

The extent of individual contributions and their positioning in the magazine in relation to the scope of the main topic complies with a prescribed structure. The same applies to marginal topics, less central elements, e.g. reviews, as well as additional features such as riddles, advertisements and other elements.

The extent of the chapters and the paragraphs can also be illustrated in the form of a ‘dramaturgic profile’ (see chart 2 and 3). Thereby, the main topic of the magazine (category 1) and its distribution across the issue pagewise is the focus of attention. The marginal topics and less central elements of the issue are presented in relation to the main topic of the magazine in gradations accordingly. The marginal topics can be differentiated in various categories according to their thematic connection to the main topic (in this analysis in two levels). In this way the topics of the second category exhibit a thematic connection to the main topic of the issue whereas the third category is thematically removed.

The magazine DAMALS (chart 2) exhibits (as do G/GESCHICHTE and P.M. HISTORY) a so-called ‘mantle structure’. The cover story, which takes up the first half of the magazine, forms the core and covers roughly 47% of the issue. Whereas this proportion is echoed in P.M. HISTORY, it rises to roughly 60% in G/GESCHICHTE. All three magazine-concepts have in common that a new chapter is introduced on full or double pages. The relation between text and image is balanced in all three magazines in the passages of category 1 with a roughly even split. Deviating from this, a sequence of seven pages can be found in P.M. HISTORY27 at the beginning of the main topic in which the text-picture-ratio is 30% to 70%. G/GESCHICHTE also shows a further idiosyncrasy. The structure of this magazine exhibits the peculiarity that the main part (category 1) consists ← 215 | 216 → of two sequences, which are very short and sometimes only comprise one to two pages.

Regarding the illustration of these initial pages of a sequence, the editors increasingly revert to so-called ‘reference images’. These are pictures which, due to their strong (historico-cultural) presence, can symbolically stand for the focal event as a whole, be associated at once with the topic and, from the editors’ point of view, are well-fitted to win the reader over to a topic quickly. Depending on the claims of the magazine, pictures may indeed be considered which have been chosen due to their emotional substance, but which are problematic from the point of view of history didactics, e.g. modern historicised pictures, picture montages or film images from modern films. It follows that the short chapters found in G/GESCHICHTE each have to be introduced anew using relevant pictures.

Chart 2: Dramaturgical profile of the magazine DAMALS, issue 4/2008 „Würfeln, Wetten, Karten spielen“


In comparison to the other three formats, the magazine GEO EPOCHE (chart 3) adopts a structure which is 80% dominated by the main topic (139 pages). This dominance is interrupted in the course of the magazine only at individual stages by short insertions of category 2. The text-picture-ratio ← 216 | 217 → in large parts of the main sequence is 40% to 60%. Two sequences of 16 pages each form an exception, in which the text-picture-ratio is 10% to 90%. The first sequence is at the beginning of the magazine. The second picture series, which begins on page 100, forms the prelude to the final third of the issue.

In the few sequences of category 2 (10 pages, 6%), which only count individual pages, the text-picture-ratio is 80% to 20%. It is nonetheless characteristic that individual chapters of the issue are very long and sometimes cover 16 to 20 pages. The continuously dominating use of pictures is striking. In the two long sequences, which are 90% covered with pictures, these serve as text replacement.

The way in which pictures are used in GEO EPOCHE would not be possible within the structural design of the three other magazines. Given the dominance of one subject topic and the large scope in general, a diverse and extensive range of pictures can be reproduced. In the long picture-galleries, entire series of aesthetically similar pictures can be presented in large-size formats and in an effective way.

Chart 3: Dramaturgical profile of the magazine GEO EPOCHE, issue 4/2006 „Preußen“.


← 217 | 218 →

Magazines designed according to the principle of the mantle structure try to address larger target groups, which may also be reached via inclusion of marginal topics. The greater the number of marginal topics (which are advertised in a box or via a headline on the cover page), the broader the target group aimed at by the magazine. Every individual topic has to be advertised by relevant expressive pictures. The number of pictures which can be used per topic is consequently limited. It follows that the subject matter of the pictures is heterogeneous. The need to employ reference images, as mentioned above, is relatively strong.

A magazine of the type exemplified by GEO EPOCHE, in contrast, addresses relatively small target groups with special topic interests. When purchasing such a comparatively expensive magazine the buyer has already decided in favour of the cover story and does not have to be won over for new subject matter time and again while reading. Such a design-concept allows a fundamentally different use of images. Long picture series are a characteristic. These stretch out across many pages and address a different form of reader-attention than does the mantle structures examined above. This aesthetically sophisticated culture of picture use, in which full-page pictures can develop their effect, corresponds with the use of high-quality paper and an intricate finish recognisable even to the layperson. Moreover, entire picture series can be put together which are similar in style and content. The use of reference images, which sketch out a topic in a sudden and appealing way, is not necessarily required in this approach.

The comparative view on the dramaturgical profile of the magazines shows that the prescribed structure of a magazine influences the choice and use of pictures to a certain extent. The prescribed framework limits the number of pictures used, determines the presentational possibilities and occasionally even influences the types of pictures deployed in individual sections of the magazine. It becomes apparent that besides mediating ‘history’ the pictures in the respective magazine-designs function in relation to the acquisition of target audiences. Even in magazines whose scrutinised design-structures are similar, as is the case with the issues of DAMALS, G/GESCHICHTE and P.M. HISTORY, this influence is expressed in a stronger way in G/GESCHICHTE and P.M. HISTORY.

In this connection, GEO EPOCHE is significant. Even though possibilities for decision-making about the number and choice of pictures are ← 218 | 219 → relatively liberal in comparison to the other magazines, the prescribed structure confirms features which have already attracted negative attention during the analysis of the image use. The long picture series, which make use of image documents as text replacement, exhibit a function which needs to be viewed critically in a twofold way. The magazine structure deliberately aims at creating iconographically- and aesthetically-conveyed moods through which the subject matter of the issue is to be perceived. At the same time, the premium design of the magazine suggests ‘quality’. From the point of view of history didactics, these features are not unproblematic since they cannot be recognised by laypeople.


As is the case with all illustrated magazines on the market, for history magazines the use of images is of central significance. Despite the wide range and diversity of the image documents presented, conclusions about the culture of image use in the respective magazine-design can be drawn within a clearly defined framework. From the point of view of history didactics, differences in the quality of the cultures of image use can be discerned and substantiated according to the conceptualisation of the respective magazine.

The choice and presentation of image documents is subject to the ideas and concepts of ‘history’ and ‘history mediation’ which inform the thinking of authors and editors. Image presentation moreover follows market and target group interests. The basic structure of the magazine also influences the use and presentation of images.

The analysis of image inventories from the perspective of history didactics leads to very different results. Among the four examples examined, the use of images in the magazine DAMALS can be evaluated as the most favourable from the point of view of history didactics, since the majority of the picture inventory is contemporary and can be used as source-material thanks to adequate attention having been given to historiographical standards. The illustrative use of image documents is also in the main subject-relevant and contributes to the mediacy of history in a didactical sense. Accordingly, the magazine represents a sophisticated culture of popular ← 219 | 220 → scientific mediacy of history, where history didactical standards are editorially considered when image documents are used. The documents presented can be verified by the interested lay-reader.

Results for the magazines P.M. HISTORY, G/GESCHICHTE and GEO EPCOHE are clearly weaker in this analysis. The editors of P.M. HISTORY and G/GESCHICHTE use far fewer examples of contemporary image material than DAMALS, but far more modern image material from the time in which the magazine was produced. In both magazines, the illustrative use of images plays a strikingly large part; in P.M. HISTORY this usage even exceeds the number of pictures deployed as source-material. Additionally, P.M. HISTORY displays the largest proportion of pictures which in the broadest sense were chosen and presented for entertainment purposes. Especially striking is the culture of image use in GEO EPOCHE. A mere 38% of the images can be used as source-material in the way they are presented. The issue reverts to modern historicised image material, which is problematic from the point of view of history didactics. The proportion of pictures presented for entertainment purposes is also comparatively large. GEO EPOCHE may thus be unusual since its high-quality processing and the quality of its paper may create a different impression at first glance.28 This outward impression makes it more difficult for the layperson to recognise how weak is the culture of image use presented here.

Furthermore, this analysis has shown that the broad magazine culture is also reflected in the culture of image use. The long picture series used in GEO EPOCHE’s design-concept was especially noteworthy. It clearly functioned as a way to imbue the reception of the main focus topic with iconographically and aesthetically conveyed atmosphere. A mantle structure, however, with short chapters about the cover story, as found in G/GESCHICHTE, requires the increased use of reference images in order to rekindle the attention of the recipient over and over again.

The comparative consideration of the culture of images in the given magazines was carried out on the basis of the choice, presentation and ← 220 | 221 → significance of the magazine structure. However, the specific picture contents of the picture inventories deployed were not considered. While these could be recorded in the form presented here, their specific effect on the recipient, (which may differ from the effect intended by editors) poses a challenge for the consideration of the contents of the inventory.29 Due to its emotional substance the same picture may fulfil different or even contradictory functions for various viewers. Methodological limitations (e.g. with regard to individual topics and surveys of recipients) would come into play in such an investigation.

From the perspective of history didactics, magazine producers face the problem of how a market- and target-group oriented culture may be meshed with a culture which observes history didactical standards, if indeed such standards are desired to be met. Rolf Schörken pointed out in the 1980s that engaging with history in the public arena also serves needs beyond those related to educational interest.30 This perspective is very informative, especially for an understanding of many manifestations of the popular mediacy of history.31 If such mediacy includes needs such as entertainment, escape from everyday life, and the search for meaning and orientation in history (i.e. to use history as a surface on which to present present-day wishes and needs), then these categories are also more or less specifically addressed and provided for by history magazines. The didactical implementation of the culture of image-use is likely to differ from the needs of these target groups. Nonetheless, to explore whether and how an approach which values critical and scientific quality might be better balanced against an orientation to the market would make for an important challenge.

1 Cf. exemplarily on this: Brigitte Tolkemitt/Rainer Wohlfeil (eds.): Historische Bildkunde. Probleme – Wege – Beispiele. Berlin 1991; Heike Talkenberger: Von der Illustration zur Interpretation. Das Bild als historische Quelle. Methodische Überlegungen zur Historischen Bildkunde. In: Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 21 (1994), p. 289–313; Hans-Jürgen Pandel: Bildinterpretation. Die Bildquelle im Geschichtsunterricht. Bildinterpretation I. Schwalbach/Ts. 2008; Michael Wobring/Susanne Popp (eds.): Der europäische Bildersaal. Europa und seine Bilder. Schwalbach/Ts. 2014.

2 The choice of the magazine issues was made incidentally without taking into account the thematic main focus. Object of the analysis are the issues DAMALS 4 (2008) ‘Würfeln, Wetten, Kartenspielen’, G/GESCHICHTE 4 (2008) ‘Kaiser Friedrich II.’, GEO EPOCHE 4 (2006) ‘Preußen’ and P.M. HISTORY 5 (2008) ‘Die Sieben Weltwunder und ihre Geheimnisse’.

3 Regarding the basics of magazine design cf. Hubert Blana: Die Herstellung. Ein Handbuch für die Gestaltung. Technik und Kalkulation von Buch, Zeitschrift und Zeitung, p. 134 f.

4 Jörn Rüsen characterises historico-cultural phenomena with three dimensions, namely the aesthetic, the political and the cognitive dimension. The aesthetic dimension in general also features non-visual characteristics. Cf. Jörn Rüsen: Geschichtskultur. In: Klaus Bergmann et al. (eds.): Handbuch der Geschichtsdidaktik. 5th ed. Seelze 1997, p. 38–41.

5 Regarding the situation of magazines on the current market cf.: Michael Hallemann: Was Zeitschriften besonders gut können. Die spezifischen Funktionen und Qualitäten von Print in seiner sich verändernden Medienlandschaft. In: Sven Dierks (ed.): Quo vadis Zeitschriften? Änderung der Medienlandschaft und Auswirkungen auf die Pressekäufer. Wiesbaden 2009, p. 113–122, p. 113 f.; Edigna Menhard/Tilo Treede: Die Zeitschrift. Von der Idee bis zur Vermarktung. Konstanz 2004, p. 27 f.; Markus Reiter/Eva-Maria Waas: Der Relaunch. Zeitung – Zeitschrift – Internet. Konstanz 2009, p. 15 f.

6 The popular scientific offers are linked on various levels. Some of the history magazines are aligned to products of the same family and their house-style of appearance: the history magazine GEO EPOCHE is an offshoot of the geography magazine GEO and P.M. HISTORY is an offshoot of the technically and physically oriented magazine P.M. These relations are shown in the choice of content, the presentation of topics, but also in the culture of image use and the overall visual aesthetics. On the history of the magazine market and on the rise of the popular scientific magazines since the late 1970s cf. Clemens Zimmermann: Die Zeitschrift – Medium der Moderne. Publikumszeitschriften im 20. Jahrhundert. In: Clemens Zimmermann/Manfred Schmeling (eds.): Die Zeitschrift – Medium der Moderne. Deutschland und Frankreich im Vergleich. Bielefeld 2006, p. 15–42, p. 34.

7 On the specific characteristics of image media cf. Klaus Sachs-Hombach/Jörg R. J. Schirra: Medientheorie, visuelle Kultur und Bildanthropologie. In: Klaus Sachs-Hombach (ed.): Bildtheorien – Anthropologische und kulturelle Grundlagen des Visualistic Turn. Frankfurt/Main 2009, p. 393–426, p. 410 f.

8 Ibid p. 412 f.

9 On cross-media image perception cf. Manfred Behr: Visuelle Argumentationen: Schlüsselbilder im Selbstverständnis von Kulturen. In: Jahrbuch Medienpädagogik 3 (2003), p. 83–104; George Lakoff/Mark Johnson: Leben in Metaphern. Konstruktion und Gebrauch von Sprachbildern. Heidelberg 2000.

10 Cf. note 1.

11 The manifold possibilities of quantitative and qualitative image analyses could be carried out meaningfully in a database structure and recorded in individual tables, whereby it would be possible to connect other surveys depending on the requirements.

12 If the topic of an article spans time periods and epochs then the individual picture is to be classified according to the respective temporal context of use.

13 Fons van der Linden: DuMont’s Handbuch der graphischen Techniken. Köln 1990.

14 Iconclass, URL: (1.8.2014).

15 On the complex problem of determining the quality and evaluating media cf. Siegfried Weischenberg: Medienqualitäten: Zur Einführung in den kommunikationswissenschaftlichen Diskurs über Maßstäbe und Methoden zur Bewertung öffentlicher Kommunikation. In: Siegfried Weischenberg/Wiebke Loosen/Michael Beuthner (eds.): Medien-Qualitäten. Öffentliche Kommunikation zwischen ökonomischem Kalkül und Sozialverantwortung. Konstanz 2006, p. 9–36.

16 Cf. exemplarily: Peter Burke: Augenzeugenschaft. Bilder als historische Quellen. Berlin 2003; Rainer Wohlfeil: Methodische Reflexionen zur Historischen Bildkunde. In: Tolkemitt/Wohlfeil (note 1), p. 17–35; Bernd Roeck: Das historische Auge. Kunstwerke als Zeugen ihrer Zeit. Von der Renaissance zur Revolution. Göttingen 2004; Talkenberger (note 1).

17 Cf. note 1.

18 One chapter of the magazine P.M. HISTORY, for instance, which deals with the fight of the Scots against the English at the beginning of the 14th century, was illustrated with scenes from the film ‘Braveheart’ from 1995. This is the production of a director working 680 years after the event. The connection to the mediacy of history remains a problematic construct. The emotional substance of the picture, however, the battle of the weak against the strong, primitively armed peasants against heavily armed knights and soldiers, offers great potential for identification. Cf. Das Wunder von Bannockburn. In: P.M. HISTORY 5 (2008), p. 10 f.

19 P.M. HISTORY 10 (2006) shows a picture montage on the cover page in which the sky disc of Nebra, the Bronze Age discovery from the year 1999, is directly connected to the fictional novel and film character Gandalf by the Author John R. R. Tolkien.

20 The objects of the examination are the issues DAMALS 4 (2008) ‘Würfeln, Wetten, Kartenspielen’, G/GESCHICHTE 4 (2008) ‘Kaiser Friedrich II.’, GEO EPOCHE 4 (2006) ‘Preußen’ and P.M. HISTORY 5 (2008) ‘Die Sieben Weltwunder und ihre Geheimnisse’. Due to the ongoing debate, the quality of the mediacy of history in the magazines examined by means of images may be somewhat different in more modern issues. This, however, does not affect the methodology presented here.

21 In general, it is possible also to record a larger amount of issues of a magazine and sum up the data in this way. Fluctuations would occur in the enumerations if a magazine features a dominating thematic focus area, such as e.g. GEO EOCHE, provided this focus area regards an epoch without contemporary images. This special case, however, does not occur with regards to the random choice of the magazines at hand.

22 Contributions on the history of reception were not included in the magazines examined.

23 Source references are often missing in this issue of GEO EPOCHE. In the appendix of the issue the magazine does record indications of the location from which printing modules were received, but these are not source references in the sense recognised by historical source studies.

24 Menhard/Treede (note 5), p. 182 f.

25 Cf. Hallemann (note 5), p. 116 f.

26 On the different structural models of the magazines cf. Menhard/Treede (note 5), p. 97 f.; Reiter/Waas (note 5), p. 145 f.

27 The history magazine P.M. HISTORY has recently changed its layout and structure, which is not taken into account here.

28 The image this creates, and the comparatively expensive price of the magazine, addresses a high-income target group. Cf. on this Erich Staßner: Zeitschriften. Tübingen 1997, p. 34.

29 On the phenomenon of image documentation cf. Sachs-Hombach/Schirra (note 7), p. 412–417.

30 Rolf Schörken: Geschichte in der Alltagswelt. Wie uns Geschichte begegnet und was wir mit ihr machen. Stuttgart 1981.

31 In principal, it has to be mentioned that the purely scientific engagement with history is likewise not entirely free of the psycho-social categories described. However, these are more prominent in the field of popular culture.