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To See or to ReadThe Pedagogical Legacy of Jacques Bertin

Stéphane Buellet, Roberto Gimeno & Anne‑Lyse Renon

Translated from the French
by Aviva Cashmira Kakar

Discussion between

The Laboratoire de Cartographie, founded by Jacques Bertin in 1954, became known as the Laboratoire de Graphique in 1974 (it closed in 2000). It articulated the production of scientific images and the representation of data and research in the social sciences in a new way. The precursory character of the works of the Laboratory, made evident through the works of Bertin, was, from that point, internationally recognized. Bertin’s work on graphic semiology is a key source today, used not only by cartographers, but also specialists in the visual analysis of data and graphic design.

As of 1976, on a pedagogical level, research on the possible uses of graphics for teaching was conducted by Roberto Gimeno, then a colleague of Jacques Bertin’s at the Laboratoire de Graphique at the EHESS. These experiments were conducted at different grades in primary schools, and in secondary school classes. Children were asked to create matrices and maps in order to discover typologies, invent concepts and thus acquire new knowledge. Researcher Anne-Lyse Renon and graphic designer Stéphane Buellet met with Roberto Gimeno to measure, over three decades after the preceding article was published, the pedagogical legacy of the Laboratoire de Graphique.

Anne-Lyse Renon Roberto, you went to work with Jacques Bertin in the 1980s. How did this come about?

Roberto Gimeno I had been working as a teacher in Uruguay for over ten years. I had always been interested in images and I managed to acquire a position as a producer and director of educational television through a competition at the French Ministry of Education. Two years later, I received a grant from the French government to study audiovisual techniques and methods as part of the Institut National de la Recherche Pédagogique (INRP, the National Institute for Pedagogical Research) in Paris. It was there that I met the sociologist and linguist Louis Porcher who, in turn, introduced me to the work of Jacques Bertin. At the time, Bertin was directing the Laboratoire de Graphique at the EHESS, founded in 1954. Consequently, he accepted me as a student in 1974 and proposed that, as my thesis topic, I bring together my training as a teacher and as a graphic artist. It was thus that the research project on the use of graphics in education was born, and that I received access to schools in Neuilly, Levallois, Seine-Saint-Denis, etc. Over time, the network widened. I was invited to conduct workshops on the use of graphics in teaching, on dot-matrix processing and the representation of history, cartography, etc. A new generation of teachers became interested in the subject and the number of experiments increased.

When we began these projects, personal computers were not an affordable option. The question of computer graphics tools quickly came up as a means of replacing manual operations of cutting and pasting in order to create dot-matrix renderings directly on the screen, that is to say to display a two-way classification table which enabled the permutation of lines and columns in order to create rankings. The first computer was a Micral 80-22G (1978) made by the French company R2E, for whom Jean-Michel Fras and Pierre-Yves Vicens, of the École Normale de Livry-Gargan, created a first computer graphics tool for the classification of the lines and columns of a matrix and the creation of maps. This first tool was improved and redeveloped for Thomson’s TO7, TO7-70 and “nanoréseau,” which, from 1984–1985 on, was part of the Informatique pour Tous (IPT, “computing for everyone”) initiative. Unfortunately, Thomson’s choice of 8-bit graphics terminals was a catastrophe. It was intended to develop the French computer industry with the Minitel, but the light pen was not able to provide much resistance to the mouse of the Apple Macintosh (1984).

In this context, we responded to an invitation to tender of the Ministry of Education with two teachers from the École Normale d’Instituteurs at Antony, in the region of the Hauts…