Teaching history and Local History Groups

Today’s Seneca and TMHistory Icons was an amazing CPD oppotunity. I was delighted to see so much local history included. What I did find lacking was the mention of local history groups. I am very biased on this. I was building our Heritage Group, as a local historian, long before I was teaching history, it is what lead me into teaching.

I am a firm believer that local history groups should be the first stop for any school history department. They will have their own archive, probably have written about the topics that you are after, as well as able to supply speakers to come and talk to the pupils about their local community, helping with the cultural capital.

I did this a few years ago for our local village school, where I presented to Reception, KS1 and KS2 as part of their history week. Being able to talk about the history of their own locailty in detail gets them absorbed! We then took the local Secondary school history teachers on a walk around the village, with a detailed account of the elements and periods of history that they could cover, just within our village. Luckily for them this included everything from the early Saxons right through to WWII, along with recalcitrant Catholics high up in Henry VIII’s and Elizabeth I’s courts!

A number of groups will also involve archaeology, and there is nothing quite like being able to bring in artefacts from the pupils local surroundings and allowing them to touch history. My Year 7’s spent a part of one of our Norman lessons touching pottery from that period, found just three miles up the road from the school. I have everything from Iron Age flakes to 1980s pottery in our group’s archaeology collection. We are also incredibly lucky to have a reconstructed head from the 1990s programme ‘Meet the Ancestors’. The very first child reconstruction in the world, that of a Saxon child, the same age as most of my pupils. Lots of groups will do outreach projects, or if not point you in the right direction.

One of the questions asked today was about ‘how local is local?’ Eadwine and Morcar rally of the troops, against Tostig’s rule in Northumberland, happened in Northampton, which is 30 miles away, but is included in my teaching as ‘local’. Whilst teaching the Normans in September I heard that our local beacon, 8 miles away, may have been used as part of the beacons during the Norman Conquest, which my pupils loved hearing about so much that they even wrote about it in their assessment piece! I think it is just as important to add in snippets of local history as it is to carry it out as part of a SoW. My Domesday lesson is run on the basis of using information about the local villages. To tell them that a small village 3 miles away, was worth more than the large market town they now go shopping in 1086 completely stumps them! (I shall be exploring this a bit more in another post on using drama in history.)

With archives being run differently after Covid-19, it will be much harder to visit. Ours is only taking advance bookings and you need to know precisely what you want and order before you visit. This takes away the ability to sit there and be guided by the evidence in front of you, and order what you need during your time there. I have gained so much information by starting in one place in the morning, and ending up somewhere I didn’t expect a few hours later.

Local history groups can be a godsend to history departments, and vice versa. Young people engaging with the local history group in their area means that groups are more likely to survive in the future. We are in danger of losing groups, in the future, in certain areas due to the age of most members.

Some groups are not in here, we are not at present, but this is a good starting point, as well as a good old Google search. Good luck!

https://www.balh.org.uk/societies-az

Drama and Music in the History Classroom

Outside of school I co-run a children’s drama group. Drama and music are a great way of teaching as they help engage the pupils in a different way, especially for more complex ideas. I thought I would share some of the ways I use them in the classroom with my Year 7 history class.

Drama

Our first foray into drama was the Battle of Hastings. Half the class as Normans, and the other the Saxons. They can be very dramatic, dying is a particular favourite part of the action! It can help to explain how the Normans went from a virtual stalemate to final victory.

The Domesday book is perfect for role play. I cut out cards with local details on, split the class into the information collectors and those being interviewed. The interviewees are then split into different strands of society. We discuss why some information is missed off and how they might feel about the amount of details being collected. It allows pupils to explore the intricasies of the Domesday Book.

The Feudal System is an important part of the understanding of Medieval history. The pupils voted for the king, who then appointed his knights, and so on. As we carried on through our lessons, each member of the class could play their own role they had been assigned at the start.

The death of Thomas Becket was another firm favourite with the pupils. We started off in the court of Henry II over in France, with the class being a mixture of knights and those in Canterbury Cathedral. Though I am sure Becket probably wasn’t quite as dramatic in death as our’s was, definitely would have given Richard Burton a run for his money! However, they then discuss how both parties might feel, and how it got to the point of murder, allowing further discussion points.

Music

It is really difficult to find music from the Norman period, however, once we head into the Angevin era the music is widely available on YouTube. When we were studying anything to do with the royal court, I always started the lesson with a piece of music from the time, the same with the Church, allowing them to see a contrast between the two. Richard the Lionheart was an excellent musician and songwriter so it is an ideal time to introduce the music of the Crusades. It gives another dimension to the pupils understanding of the Medieval world, as well as showing the similarities between our time and then.

The pupils thoroughly enjoyed these lessons, and talked about them all the time. Lesson retrieval was easier as well, as they could picture in their minds what they had acted out or listened too.

Using the Census Records in Schools

Most people will have thought about census enumerator books with regards to family history. What about the use of them as part of local history? Census records are not just a family history tool but can open up discussions about how and why things were recorded, as well as looking at how the information was gathered. Why did the Victorians want to know so much about everybody? Why do we still use the census today?

Next year will be the release of the 1921 census records, with 2022 predicted as the arrival date on sites such as FindMyPast. This will be the last census to be released that has pre-WWII information as the 1931 census, for England and Wales, was burnt in a mysterious fire in 1942. The census records are not just for those searching for their family, it can shine a light into a world of hidden stories.

I started working with census records in 2018, when I realised that the only way I could write my microhistory for my dissertation was to collate all the information from 1851 to 1901. I learnt quite quickly that it was not a small task. I ended up with thousands of records in an excel spreadsheet, but the detail it allowed me to write about was enormous.

What is the benefit for teaching?

Teaching local history is a difficult task as the stories are not there for the ordinary working people. By looking at census records you can begin to tell stories. The stories I told were of the changes in people’s lives over several census years. I learnt about the changes to our farming community, as well as the fall in cottage industries. I followed the fortunes of people moving in and out of the village. Tracked how they changed their lives from ordinary farm workers to better occupations. I saw how the change in attitude affected the way that women were viewed in the census records.

The Industrial Revolution is considered as such a small time period, but places such as the Home Counties, the South West and the East were very late developers. These proto-industrial areas were just starting to find their feet in the mid to late nineteenth century. We concentrate our teaching on how the Industrial Revolution affected the Empire, communications, and laws. Our rural areas have just as much of a story to tell, as do the growing urban areas, far deeper than can be covered in any textbook.

How to do it.

I spent an hour this afternoon looking at the High Street in one of my microhistory villages, just to see what I could glean from the information. I only looked at 1851 and 1901. I chose the High Street as the name very rarely changes. Other roads often change names, or swap names, as I have found out on numerous occasions!

As all my data is in an excel spreadsheet it takes very little time to actually collate the information required, more time to actually analyse and write it. I am going to write my findings as well as the questions that came to mind whilst I was writing. Some of these were the same questions I asked myself as I wrote my own microhistory, and are excellent jump off points for discussion.

The High Street, Wing.

Housing

In 1851 the population of the High Street totalled 320 people living in 80 houses. This averages out at four people per household. By 1901, the High Street population had dropped to 274 people, however, six more houses had been built, bringing the average household size to just over 3.

Questions to ask would be whether that sounds like it is overcrowded? What I haven’t looked at, and did for my microhistory, was the composition of those households. How many were only made up of single people, couples or family groups? For this village, extended families tended to create a number of overcrowding issues. You can also look at maps to see if there is the possibility of picking up the increase in houses, as in my previous blog post on maps.

Gender and age

In 1851, there were 171 males in the High Street and 149 females. By the time we get to 1901 this has changed considerably. We know there is a population drop-off from 320 to 274, and this shows us why. The change is mainly down to a drop in males. From 171 down to 122 in 1901, with females slightly increased to 152.

Why? What has happened to the male population in the High Street to have a significant drop? Looking at age we see that the issue is in the Under 10s and Over 60s brackets. In 1851, there were 44 male under 10’s living in the High Street, this has dropped to 19 by 1901. We can tell it is an issue because the female numbers have only changed from 37 in 1851 to 38 in 1901. Males are also not living as long as the females. In 1851, there are 22 males over 60 living in the High Street, by 1901 that has dropped to 11. With the females of the same age range, there are 13 in 1851 and 23 by 1901. To get deeper into this you can then look at widows to see if there are more females than males. What is causing females to live longer than males? What are working conditions like? Are they more likely to go into the local Workhouse than females? All of these can be explored.

Movement

For me this was one of the most intriguing parts of my microhistory. I was taught at school that people only moved out of the villages during the Industrial Revolution to find better jobs out of agriculture. When I carried out my study I found this wasn’t the case. For my other subject village, I discovered that people moved into the village from other villages a few miles away, still as agricultural labourers. I have cheated slightly by using Wing for this particular blog as the Rothschild estate played a large part in the increase in movement, but it also made it more obvious when compared to a ‘normal’ village.

In 1851, 56 people in the High Street were not born in Wing, of those the furthest came from 20 miles away. This comprised roughly 18% of the residents. By 1901, this had increased to 23% with the distances travelled far greater, for example, Barrow-In-Furness, the furthest at some 250 miles away.

Why did people migrate into the villages? My study was far more detailed than this. It went into the jobs people moved from, as well as looking at those aged between 5-21, unmarried, who moved out of the village, were they ended up and what occupation they did. It opened up the stories of people’s lives. I particularly like the Rothschild coachman who moved to New York and Paris, before coming to Wing. How do we know? His children were born in those places and recorded in the census records. There were also the stories of betterment. With once agricultural labourers moving out and becoming policemen, one even became the Clerk of a local Union Office. Social mobility was on the rise, something that is sometimes forgotten in our teaching.

Occupations

We tend to think of the High Street as bustling places, but in Victorian times this wasn’t the case. The Wing High Street, in 1851, had 36% working as agricultural labourers and 22% in the straw plait industry. By 1901, 32% of residents worked in agriculture with no straw plaiters at all. In 1851, 57% of the High Street were in employment, the youngest being aged 6, as a straw plaiter. In 1901, this had dropped to 39%, the youngest being 13 and an agricultural labourer. Why did this drop off occur? Was it the straw plaiters? What occupations did women do? Were they different in 1851 to 1901?

By looking at occupations you can see the trends, as well as how women’s role in society changed over the 50 years. The subject of child labour can also be tackled, that it wasn’t just in factories that children worked from a young age. By 1901, the High Street was becoming more recognisable, with hairdressers and grocer shops and that is obvious through the census records and can easily be tracked.

Families

Finally, this is the part that needs more research than just looking at two census records. There are 12 of the same family names recorded in both 1851 and 1901, a lovely topic would be to investigate the families and see how they relate to the two census records. This is something I am in the process of doing, however, my dataset for that goes back to the 1500s with parish records, not just the census information. This is one long-term project which I think will take some years!

Conclusion

I hope that you can see, despite the work being tedious to begin with, it is worthwhile doing a project on the census of a road. There is always your local family history society as they may already have the censuses available in spreadsheet format. I remember thinking that I could never do a project like this myself, but, after a false start, it came so easily and was enjoyable. I am hoping to do this with the Year 8s next year, as part of their Industrial Revolution work, it will add an extra touch as well as further discussion points.

Mapping the local community

There are several ways of engaging students, and the public, in local history. One of the most successful for us as a history group, and one students love, is how the place where they live has changed over time.

Old maps feature quite heavily in our displays. Not only do they show how development has changed the place people live, but it also brings to life how people in the past lived. The National Library of Scotland is the most fantastic resource for old maps. You can track the development of places from the late Victorians to the mid-late twentieth century. I use them all the time, not just for written research, but also when planning or investigating archaeology. They also have some of the original maps of the country.

The other maps, which tell an interesting history, are those of the Enclosures of the late 18th and early 19th century. Local records offices will hold copies of Enclosure records, usually maps and a list of owners. Each one had to go through an Act of Parliament, which is also a major bonus because of the detail held within them.

FindMyPast have the 1939 register, which was taken just before the outbreak of war, and amended for about 20 to 30 years afterwards. This has the 1939 maps attached, and is fascianting for those researching bombed areas. I recently found more about my own London history using this, as my great-grandparents were bombed out of the area around the Welsh Harp. I was able to find the street they lived in, the school my grandma went to and the Welsh Harp pub my great-grandma worked in.

The Genealogist is another resource well worth investment in. They are adding in the Lloyd George 1910 Domesday Survey from across the country. This not only includes a map, but also information regarding each house, and piece of land, recorded on the map. Some of the information includes house plans, size of land and what it was used for. Also, on the site, are the 1841 and 1851 Tithe maps. Like the 1910 Domesday Survey, this also includes owners and tenants details, size of land and what it was used for. Through this I found the pub one of my ancestors owned, which was demolished in the late 1800s, after being taken over by the local Rothschild estate. I always knew roughly where it was, but the Tithe map showed the land that they owned, as well as where the pub was.

The Genealogist is expensive, and the Tithe records needs the full package to access it. Local records offices will hold the hard copies, so it is still possible to gain access to them, when Lockdown is eventually lifted. FindMyPast allows access to the 1939 register through an ordinary subscription. Don’t forget to ask local history groups if they have them. If they are anything like ours, we hold nearly all of those records for our area, and have access to the ones we don’t.

The final map I suggest, is not so much a historical map, but one that shows historical elements in the area. The LiDAR map shows archaeological features hidden from view. This is great if you are in a small town or village. Ridge and furrow can be seen, even in fields that have had the modern plough. Features such as Iron Age round houses and Roman buildings can be seen mixing together. This is a really useful tool if you are teaching about archaeology as it is non-destructive, unlike archaeological excavations.

Local history

I admit it, I am a local historian and a history addict. Always feels good to say it out loud! (I also teach, and I am a mum, but my two boys will tell you I am history obsessed!)

I never planned on being a local historian. I had always wanted to study history and do something with it, but was never quite sure what, teaching was always something I hoped to do. I grew up in a house surrounded by history books, antiques and discussions. The usual trips to castles, museums and stately homes, based on some battle or other. Military history was my passion, no particular era, battles and warfare was the way I thought I would go. My first website was about the Homefront in WWI wingatwar.  I had no idea I would end up doing what I do now.

It all began in a Parish Council meeting in 2011. The Neighbourhood Planning Policy Framework had just been published and we knew our village was at risk of major development. So, we took the decision to protect ourselves. I was in the middle of my history degree, so it fell to me to deal with the heritage and ecology side of things. I had two weeks to prepare a display. There was hardly anything. Old photos in a book published in the 1980s, and some interesting claims. I knew about the Saxon church, and the Saxon burials that had been on Meet the Ancestors, but that is sort of where it stopped. Would people actually be interested anyway? Luckily our Historic Environment Record (HER) were all online and that is where I started. I then had a huge map where I plotted all these wonderful finds and listed buildings, hoping it would grab people’s attention. It did. I spoke almost non-stop for two days. My mind was buzzing and racing all the way through. It seemed clear that people wanted to know about their house, the history, their identity. We needed a history group.

In 2012, with my, also history obsessed friend, Elaine, we decided to do a walk around the village, to find out what people actually knew! One of those walks turned out to be the start of another project, as a voice from behind called out ‘I’m an archaeologist and looking for a community project’ to which I replied ‘I’m training to be a historian and in need of a community archaeologist’. In 2013, our Archaeology Project started, with 46 test pits in the intervening 6 years. In 2014, I became the Project Director. Thousands of finds (sitting in my house), has given the village a true sense of history around it. We even managed to complete our original task and find the location of the elusive Saxon village.

By 2014, we had become so successful we set up a group. I have an amazing committee, a brilliant dig team, made new friends, and found family (but that is another story!).

In those 9 years, I have learnt so much, not just about history, but what local history really means. It is about building a community, giving people a chance to share family stories, encouraging an identity and relationship with where people live. I have lost track of the amount of pub nights, coffee mornings, conferences, displays, talks, walks, though my super secretary and friend, Sally, will have it all minuted!

This lockdown has made me re-evaluate what it really means to be a local historian, it is the people. Countless hours of research means nothing without being able to share it. My favourite part is sharing our material and finds, whether it be in the village or in the next towns and city. Local history isn’t just about one time period either, I find myself in one conversation talking about Saxon burials, turn around to discuss our local WWII RAF base. When I first started I thought I would end up being a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’, I now know I have to be conversant in all time periods, people want detail. Local history fits into the national picture, and vice versa. Every conversation, display, each talk we have is teaching history, imparting knowledge and helping people understand each other, and themselves, better. I am a local historian, and proud of it.

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