The idea was to replicate some of the planning processes we used to go through when I was head of history and to build an interesting historical enquiry rooted in a local story. As such I hope this might be of some use to departments planning their own local history enquiries.
Over the course of a day, we were able to wrestle with enquiries which linked pupils' localities with the bigger national picture. We were also able to grapple with real issues around appropriate sequencing, disciplinary development, and the interplay between contextual knowledge and historical thinking. We also learned some interesting lessons about letting the history lead the lesson sequence, rather than the other way around, as I will explain in due course...
Step 1: Immersion in theory
One of the first things I try to do when planning a new enquiry for a sequence of lessons, is to return to the core principles and second-order concepts which I am trying to address. In this case we began by exploring some salient articles on issues surrounding the teaching of local history.
Trainees were asked to read one of the following articles before summarising it and presenting the key findings and recommendations to the group. These presentations formed a core part of the thinking which would go into the enquiries which were designed. The articles were:
- Barrett (2011) ‘‘My grandfather slammed the door in Winston Churchill’s face!’ using family history to provoke rigorous enquiry’, Teaching History, Issue 145.
- Brown & Woodcock (2009) ‘Relevant, rigorous and revisited: using local history to make meaning of historical significance.’, Teaching History, Issue 134.
- Foster & Goudie (2015) ‘‘Miss, did this really happen here?’ Exploring big overviews through local depth’, Teaching History, Issue 160.
- Johansen & Spafford (2009) ‘‘How our area used to be back then’ An oral history project in an east London school’, Teaching History, Issue 134.
- McFahn, Herrity & Bates (2009) ‘Riots, railways and a Hampshire hill fort: exploiting local history for rigorous evidential enquiry.’, Teaching History, Issue 134.
Had there been more time, I would have loved to have given time for trainees to research the local area themselves. As it was, I ended up doing this part. I deliberately chose a focus on the locality of Rawdon and Yeadon (just down the road from LTU) purely from the point of view that its pre-C19th history is quite hard to find. I was conscious that I wanted to engage with the kinds of towns many people end up working in, those where the pre C19th history is largely hidden. As such there were two focuses which we worked on throughout the day.
1. One group worked with the local history of Rawdon in the period of the Civil War and the Restoration. I gleaned most of the information for this from the excellent Aireborough Historical Society as well as from local interest books in the LTU library. There were also some archival resources which I did not use in the hope of keeping the research "realistic". The focus ended up being on the changing relationships between the powerful landholders in the area and how their fortunes were affected before, during and after the Civil War. This was supported by a small walking tour of Rawdon, which is still split into two quite distinct towns: one CofE and the other Dissenting. You can find the files which were used, including the tour HERE.
2. The other group took the story of Betsy Sawyer, an ex-slave commemorated on Yeadon Methodist Church wall. Betsy was brought to England as a house servant of the Wesleyan minister, Thomas Murray. She died in his service and the people of Yeadon paid to have a memorial stone erected for her. Murray's own daughter is even commemorated on the same stone. Betsy's story is fascinating because she barely exists in the history books and yet seem to throw a spotlight onto the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833-4 thanks to her link to Murray. Betsy's story came to me thanks to a chance conversation with some of the lovely people in the Finance Office at Guiseley School. It just goes to show that you don't always need to start in the library if you want to find some fascinating local history, beginning with people who live locally if often the best way in! You can see the documents connected to Betsy HERE.
Armed with the above information, a pile of textbooks, and the Teaching History articles, the two groups were then asked to build an enquiry around the historical content, linking the local story to the national. Each group was given a particular second-order focus, in this case "historical significance" on both counts. The instructions were as follows:
Prepare a proposal for a short enquiry unit with the following:
- A clear enquiry question linking the local and larger narratives
- A focus on your chosen second-order concept including guideposts of thinking
- An outline of the sequence of learning, including sub-questions/topics and relevant substantive knowledge (this was partially borrowed from Brown & Woodcock)
- A suitable assessment to bring the unit together
A single day is not really a huge amount of time to construct big enquiries, especially when you throw a local history walk in! Never-the-less, I was very impressed with the final products and the thinking behind them.
Enquiry 1: Rawdon & the Civil War
For a long time, this enquiry revolved around the Battle of Leeds as part of the bigger Civil War. There was also a temptation to squeeze in a lovely story about the Spencer and Rawdon families splitting "father against son" during the outbreak of war. In the end, the enquiry became one about typicality:
"How typical was Rawdon's story of Civil War?"
In this case, the focus was allowed to wander onto causation to begin with, before being brought back to the typicality of the war itself. The enquiry began at a local level and looked at internal divisions in families, comparing this to the national picture. It then broadened out to include divisions within Rawdon itself, comparing this to the national picture again. Finally it zoomed right out to look at issues of Civil War more broadly.
The Betsy Sawyer lead proved much more tricky, notably because much of the story was actually that of the Rev. Thomas Murray who brought Betsy back to England with him. Murray was heavily embroiled in the slave rebellions which ultimately helped bring slavery in the British Empire to an end in 1833/4.
Much of the early discussions in this group were focused on trying to get Betsy to be the centre of the story. In the end, the available history would not allow it and Thomas Murray instead became the focus. Initial thinking was around using significance criteria to decide if Murray should get a blue plaque, but in the end this was decided to be too restrictive and drove the content away from the focus on the Baptist War and abolition in Jamaica. After some confusion about the "Cornwall Courier", published at Falmouth (not in Cornwall, but actually in Jamaica) the following enquiry was settled upon:
"How should we remember Thomas Murray?"
The group began with a focus on Betsy Sawyer, using her grave as a hook into the bigger story. They then considered Murray's actions in Yeadon and why these might be considered significant. After this, the enquiry broadened out to link the local in Murray, to the international picture of non-conformist missions to the sugar islands. The significance of the Methodists in abolition formed a nice mid point, before the focus was brought back to Thomas Murray and finally to Yeadon itself. The end point assessment was a letter to English Heritage explaining how they might help commemorate Thomas Murray for the local area.
You can see on the image that the group planned out the necessary substantive knowledge required for students to move onto each new step of the enquiry.
The above enquiries were great products from a fantastic day of historical thinking and wrestling with sequences of learning. I genuinely think these processes can be applied just as well by history departments looking to plan historic enquiry studies, or adding the required "local" elements to their Key Stage 3 schemes of work. Most of all, I love the idea that we might be able to really engage students with those fascinating national stories by showing how they either did or didn't impact on their own localities. There are so many fascinating stories waiting to be uncovered if we just go and look for them.
I would be very interested to see if any of the trainees now get a chance to experiment with these enquiries in earnest. If anyone does, please let me know how you get on! Equally I would love to know if anyone else uses a similar process to plan their historic environment study. Again, please get in touch!