Pearls of Wisdom from TH Journal 111

Thanks to Anne Hooper (@Hoops752), Lead Practitioner in History at Sandhurst School and member of HA Secondary Committee, for this reflection on Teaching History 111. Anne continues our series of looking back in the archives and reflecting on what colleagues have written that we can learn from today. 

As a history teaching community, we are in exciting times regarding reading and scholarship. The History Teachers’ Book Club (@historybookgrp), established by Simon Beale and Andrew Sweet, has encouraged so many of us to read a diverse selection of books which have enhanced and enlightened our subject knowledge. The twitter discussions with authors have added new dimensions about their experiences in research. Tim Jenner’s article on integrating scholarship into the history diet for students, TH 174, has inspired many departments.  Going back into the Teaching History archive to edition 111 “Reading History”, published in 2003, provides a collection of articles that resonate loudly today.

Throughout the journal runs a theme of providing students with a range of rich texts to challenge, motivate and enhance their subject knowledge.  Alison Kitson (Reading and enquiring in Years 12 and 13: a case study on women in the Third Reich) wanted her students to read better quality work, to read at great length and more widely.  Her article explores a series of lessons that were inspired by her reading of Frauen by Alison Owings.  She grapples with activities to make reading even more meaningful and engaging.  From DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Text) to living graphs, there are suggestions here that can be magpied for all year groups.  An interesting question posed about “Frauen” was why was the book published when it was? (1995) and could it have been published any earlier?

This concept of “meeting the historian” is further developed in Shobham and Shiloah’s article.  E H Carr’s quote “Study the historian before you begin to study the text,” inspired them to take different interpretations on Baron Rothschild’s “Guardianship System”.  The activity described exposed the fact that historians have different opinions on the same historical event, depending on their specific point of view and gave students the experience of breaking up a historical situation into its components, and reconstructing it.

Simon Butler puts forward an argument for using songs to explore the second order concept of historical significance. Taking an example of “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, Butler uses it as a “historic document” citing the jazz writer Leonard Feather who described it as “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism”.  Consequently, he argues that ‘Strange Fruit’ is an important source, which both influenced and reflected its age and thus lends itself perfectly to a consideration of issues of historical significance and to source evaluation.  Students tackle the literacy demands of the song at both word and sentence level before taking forward the discussion in a ‘layers of inference’ diagram.  From an initial investigation of the song itself, Butler proposes a lead into the wider Civil Rights movement. (Ed: recent blogposts on music to teach Black History can be found here and here.) 

Getting Year 8 to care about Charles I and read CV Wedgwood is Christine Counsell’s “Cunning Plan” article.  Focusing on the adverb “reverently” used by Wedgwood to describe how the body of Charles I was carried, Counsell questions what the affect of using a different adverb would have be.  Students are encouraged to carry “the body” hastily, reluctantly, merrily, pompously, furtively, incompetently, and finally, reverently to explore the power of words.  Considering Wedgwood’s style of writing, students are encouraged to identify and replace subordinate clauses to grapple with what Wedgwood is trying to do.

This collection of articles mirror current debates in history teaching and provide a range of activities that can be adapted for use with the scholarship that we select for our students. The TH edition offers a reminder of how songs can offer historians a real insight into popular public opinion – whether it be opinion expressed within the period of the past under study, or modern popular views and interpretations of the past. The articles highlight how much enjoyment students can get from grappling with the work of historians and how by focusing on the text, and the text as a window into the word, we can get a deeper return.

Why not read a past issue of Teaching History yourself and remind us all of the riches we can draw upon as a history subject community? Meanwhile, do follow the HA on Facebook and @histassoc. 

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