“Seeing” Nana: Haunting Portraits and Playful Historical Thinking in the Early Childhood Education Classroom


  • Dr. Carolyn Bjartveit Mount Royal University




This article explains how an educator’s haunting experience with the historical portrait, Sick Girl (Krogh, 1881), launched an inquiry about the Norwegian artist’s young sister Nana, who died from tuberculosis in 1868 (Hansen, 2014). The hermeneutic experience opened a portal into the past and through interpreting the work of art with preschool children, a picture emerged of childhood in Scandinavia during the 19th century. Derrida’s notion of “hauntology” (1993) and Gadamer’s (2004) ideas about the experience of play in interpreting the work of art, created a framework upon which to build an understanding of Nana’s ghostly visitations and messages. If traces of history can be reconstructed through visual works and artifacts what are the implications for teaching history to young children? The pedagogical strategies used by the educator to uncover the past and enliven teaching and learning point to the relevance of visual literacy and historical portraiture in early childhood education.


Author Biography

Dr. Carolyn Bjartveit, Mount Royal University

Carolyn Bjartveit, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Child Studies and Social Work at Mount Royal University and coordinates  the Bachelor of Child Studies degree program. Her research focuses on human rights, social justice, topics of teaching and learning, and the complex intersections of the self of students and educators with the curriculum in culturally diverse post-secondary classrooms.