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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning to see in the Pietist Orphanage : geometry, philanthropy and the science of perfection, 1695-1730 Whitmer, Kelly Joan


This is a dissertation about the Halle method, or the visual pedagogies of the Pietist Orphanage as they were developed in the German university town of Halle from 1695 until 1730. A “Pietist” was someone who was affiliated with an evangelical reform movement first initiated by Philipp Jakob Spener in the 1670s. A long and deeply entrenched historiographical tradition has portrayed the Halle proponents of this movement—especially their leader August Hermann Francke—as zealous, yet practical, Lutheran reformers who were forced to directly confront the ideals of early Enlightenment in conjunction with the state-building mandate of Brandenburg-Prussia. This has led to a persistent tendency to see Halle Pietists as “others” who cultivated their collective identity in opposition to so-called Enlightenment intellectuals, like Christian Wolff, at the same time as they exerted a marked influence on these same persons. As a result of this dichotomous portrayal over the years, the impact of the Halle method on educational reform, and on the meanings eighteenth-century Europeans attached to philanthropy more generally, has been misunderstood. I argue that the Pietist Orphanage holds the key to remedying several problems that have impeded our ability to understand the significance of Pietist pedagogy and philanthropy. This was a site specifically designed to introduce children to the conciliatory knowledge-making strategies of the first Berlin Academy of Science members and their associates. These strategies championed the status of the heart as an assimilatory juncture point and were refined in the schools of the Pietist Orphanage, which itself functioned as a visual showplace that viewers could observe in order to edify and improve themselves. It was the material expression of Halle Pietists’ commitment to a “third way” and marked their attempt to assimilate experience and cognition, theology and philosophy, absolutism and voluntarism. The dissertation examines several personalities who had a direct bearing on this conciliatory project: namely E. W. von Tschirnhaus, Johann Christoph Sturm, Leonhard Christoph Sturm, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff. It also examines how the method was applied in the Halle Orphanage schools and extended elsewhere.

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