John L. Debes III Collection 1964-1985; MSS-105

John L. Debes III Collection 1964-1985; MSS-105

The John L. Debes III Collection includes correspondence, articles, papers, photographs, and ephemera. The collection, which runs from 1964 1985, is divided into five series and two subseries.

Biographical Note:
John L. Debes III was born August 15, 1914 in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1934, he attended Syracuse University in New York, where he took general science classes before dropping out to become a writer. From 1940 to 1946, Debes worked as a technical writer at various organizations before being hired by the Eastman Kodak Company as a technical editor.

Working with Kodak, Debes created youth interaction programs in the fields of communication and photography for the 4-H Clubs, Boys Clubs of America, the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts, among others. In 1957, Kodak promoted him to Youth Specialist.

Debes remained youth specialist until 1961, when he became Kodak’s Assistant to the Educational Consultant. He was involved in managing workshops for educators and librarians in using photography and education. He also created films and filmstrips that educators could use as teaching tools.

In 1969, Debes organized and convened the first National Conference on Visual Literacy. Intended to discuss and promote the concept of visual literacy and related fields, the Conference led to the development of the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA). Debes, one of the organization’s founding fathers, would become a Life Board Member as well as an editor of the IVLA publication, the Journal of Visual/Verbal Languaging, currently known as the Journal of Visual Literacy.

From 1970 to 1977, Debes served as Kodak’s Coordinator of Visual Learning. During the same period, he served as the Director of the Center for Visual Literacy at the University of Rochester (1971-1974) as well as the Coordinator for Eastman Kodak Company of the Visual Scholars Program at the University of Iowa. In 1971, Debes received a Bachelor of Science degree in General Studies and in 1973 completed a Master of Education degree, both at the University of Rochester, New York.

In 1977, Debes retired from the Eastman Kodak Company. From 1977 until his death in 1986, Debes continued to write articles, papers, and books on visual literacy as well as give speeches on the subject. He also served as a consultant to education workshops throughout the United States and remained an active member of various organizations and corporations, including the Eastman Kodak Corporation, the IVLA, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), the New York Academy of Science, and the American Psychological Association.

Scope and Content Note:
The John L. Debes III Collection includes correspondence, articles, papers, photographs, and ephemera. The collection, which runs from 1964 1985, is divided into five series and two subseries.

Series I: John L. Debes III contains copies of speeches and articles prepared by Debes on visual literacy as well as personal papers and articles about Debes. It also contains the rough draft and history of a book Debes attempted to publish, entitled A Communicator’s Grammar, dealing with visual literacy and education.

Series II: International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA) contains notes and papers relating to Debes’ involvement in the organization during its early years. It also contains materials from the 10th Annual IVLA Conference and assorted visual literacy articles.

Series III: Visual Literacy, which contains articles Debes wrote and collected on visual literacy, is divided into two subseries. Sub-Series A: Visual Communication and Perception contains papers and articles Debes collected over the years on the general subject of visual communication and visual perception, two integral parts of the visual literacy concept. Sub-Series B: Media and Education contains articles and papers Debes collected on how the media (news, television, motion pictures, and photography) affects people, especially children, and how the media can be used interactively in education. Both subseries contain Debes’ notes on visual literacy and letters between Debes and many of the authors of the articles and papers.

Series IV: Visual Literacy in Action contains information that Debes collected on various visual literacy based programs in practice around the country. Included are materials, notes, and teaching aids from the Bliss Symbolics Program, a symbolic language and communication organization in Canada, and notes on the establishment of the Visual Scholar’s Program at the University of Iowa, which Debes supervised in the late 1970’s.

Series V: Visual Literacy Researchers contains articles and papers that Debes collected that were written by researchers and instructors working in visual literacy or a related field. Included in this series are papers by Clarence M. Williams, a co-founder of the International Visual Literacy Association.

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