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!



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