There’s always something interesting about the area you live in. Once you’re a part of the community, many people enjoy learning about its origins and experiences. It helps you understand the environment better, as well as the people and their attitudes.
So today I’ve been to London with some Year 11 students to visit the Museum of London. The purpose of the day was to look at developments in London that relate to their summer exams, and I think the day ticked that box. It was informative, even if one student thought that the Victorian market street was “just like Diagon Alley!” But before going, I’d missed out on the obvious point- it’s the Museum of LONDON, and in that sense, it was displaying local history.
Of course, with London, some local aspects translate to a bigger national picture, but going around the exhibits you couldn’t fail to realise that it was all focused on the physical and cultural development of one city, and once you realised that, the museum became all the more fascinating. A detour to the City of London Police Museum also provided great insight to another aspect of London’s history.
One part of the museum focused on the impact of the world wars on London, which reminded me of a fascinating conversation I had at my Uncle’s wedding recently. It was there I was re-introduced to a man who had been evacuated to Calne, and stayed with my Grandparents for the majority of World War Two. He was five years old when he and his sister were evacuated, and his stories of both London and life in Calne were wonderful to hear. He also agreed to write many of them down, so we can use his memoirs as a historical source within school- a truly amazing opportunity.
In British secondary schools, local history can often be under-estimated in terms of its importance. Don’t get me wrong, some do a fantastic job, but others miss out on emphasising the historical heritage that is around them. For my current employment, the rich history of the woollen mills, the Harris Factory within the town is good enough, let alone the rich plethora of neolithic monuments in the surrounding area- Avebury, Silbury Hill, the Sanctuary and the numerous long barrows. There is so much there to learn from, right on our doorstop. Yet for Mr. Gove, there would sadly be no time for such ventures!
As a part of my dream curriculum for history in schools, I would insist on every school studying a thematic unit on Local history. I’d probably put it into our third year studies, and take the opportunity for some community cohesion too, getting students to present their findings to friends, family and members of the public.
Amidst William the Conqueror, Henry VIII and Winston Churchill, the benefits of understanding the history your home are many. For Calne, to understand the significance of Harris’, and the impact its demise had on the town, would be of real benefit to young people today. Raised awareness of local history would in turn increase the ability to see the impact of “big picture” history on individuals, increase understanding between different demographics within the community, and help young people feel more involved in the life of their village, town or city. In fact, local learning could well be the the lifeblood of your lessons!