Meet me in the (virtual) museum 

In these strange times, we want #OBHD to be a supportive place for all history teachers valiantly rising to the many challenges of teaching remotely online. We will keep posting regularly and do let us know what is most useful to you.

It’s going to be awhile until we can indulge our history nerdiness in museums in person – with or without out pupils. However, Gemma Hargreaves (@History_Girls) has written a blogpost for us about how to keep connected with these wonderful history spaces…

Given the current government direction this may not be the most obvious time to talk about the value of museums in History teaching but hear me out…

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, several museums made their collections available online, including interactive virtual tours from the Vatican Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the British Museum offered a 360 degree virtual tour. Google also opened several online collaborations with museums including my personal favourite ‘Faces of Frida: A closer look at the many faces of Frida Kahlo through her life, art and legacy’ on the Google Arts and Culture Platform.

These interactive exhibitions and collaborations are a pleasing development at a time when numbers of school trips are declining due to cost and staffing issues. Last year 43% of teachers (according to the Sutton Trust) said they had made cutbacks to trips. Hopefully these virtual museum exhibitions can go some way to plug the gap in pupils’ experience of history beyond the classroom, and can broaden their knowledge beyond the curriculum. Some museums have even started broadcasting live History lessons, such as The Battle of Atlantic Experience which is offering a weekly history lesson from a ‘secret WW2 bunker in Liverpool’ via Facebook. If you’re worried about screen time, Historic England has a multitude of ways teachers and pupils can get involved in visiting and protecting heritage in their local area, even as local as the streets around them, which could be perfect during these movement restrictions.

Instead of trips, many teachers already utilise museum loan boxes in their classrooms, perhaps with a typical ‘guess what this was used for’ starter. Most local museums offer loans boxes either free or for a small fee (and if your local museum doesn’t – ask them, start the conversation). While ‘lessons’ and tasks set for pupils now working at home will be very different, artefacts can still be used to good effect. The British Museum resource in Teaching History with 100 objects remains available (, Teachit History has made all their resources free for all teachers at the moment, and several use artefacts including a thought provoking debate on the Koh-I-noor diamond. Extracts and images from books such as Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor provide rich ideas for teaching Elizabethan and Stuart Britain. And China: A History in Objects by Jessica Harrison-Hall brings the history of China vividly to life through 7,000 years of objects from fine art to the everyday. Ideas for use of objects in primary teaching particularly are available here: HA Primary objects. And if you find yourself teaching a random bunch of students in school at this time, replica artefacts on the Women’s Suffrage movement and the First World War are cheaply available on eBay.  

Museums have a major impact on local and national economies, with Arts Council England reporting the economic output of museums to the national economy is £1.45 billion (2015), and they will need the support of schools and their local communities to survive and thrive after this period of uncertainty. Teachers may find time in the summer term to plan visits or explore opportunities for the next academic year. The history teaching and heritage community can come together now, and come out of this period stronger. 

Some further quick thoughts on how to use museums and artefacts in your teaching:

  • Listen to Episode 8 of the Handy History Teaching Tips podcast which discusses using objects and artefacts as sources in the classroom, and these can be adapted to think about virtual museum and setting work remotely.
  • Follow #MuseumHour on Twitter on Mondays at 8-9pm run by @museumhour and supported by some fabulous museum educators.
  • For more nuanced discussion of the role of museums listen to the Curating the Future podcast from V&A Director Tristram Hunt where he considers the challenges facing museums and how they are changing (released in January 2020 so does not account for current international pandemic). 
  • Or if what you really need right now is a good fiction book, try Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2018 and has some excellent historical titbits from the Iron Age to the Second World War. 

We hope this has provided inspiration and support for both history teaching and history teacher relaxation at this difficult time. Do get in touch with ideas and contributions for future blogposts to or on Faebook or via @histassoc. 

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