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History Around Us

How did you become fascinated by history?

For me, it was Mr Mumford’s history walks. Mr Mumford, my history teacher at secondary school, liked doing history in muddy boots. In his history lessons we explored the history around us in the Central Pennines: ruined mills, handloom weavers’ cottages, pre-industrial causeways, the canal, the Roman road. Later on, he took us further afield to Speke Hall near Liverpool, to Ironbridge, to Hadrian’s Wall. Mr Mumford’s trips are my most abiding memory of secondary school. Sadly, I have no memory of fieldwork in the sixth form or at university. This is simply because there wasn’t any. In six years of study, not one of my teachers or lecturers ever provided an opportunity to learn any history beyond the classroom, lecture theatre or library. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but, looking back, it now seems very sad. History had become a different subject, ruled by the written word (even the pictures disappeared!), and much diminished.

Connecting young people with the history around them should be a core aim of every history department in the country. We are blessed to live in a land with some of the most extensive, eclectic and remarkable historic structures in the world. Our historic environment is the most wonderful leaning resource that we history teachers could ever wish for. ‘History Around Us’ was an essential part of the Schools History Project when it began 1972. By engaging young people with their historic environment the Project aimed to provide students with the basis for a continued interest in history, to develop their enquiry skills and to connect them in a direct and authentic way to people in the past. ‘History Around Us’ is still one of SHP’s six guiding principles . The Project deeply regrets the fact a study of the historic environment is no longer a requirement of all the SHP GCSE specifications. SHP believes that there should be more opportunities for young people to study the history around them and it continues to develop innovative approaches to the study of the historic environment.

For some lucky students ‘History Around Us’ might mean a study tour to St Petersburg or to Paris, but it’s hard to make such fieldwork an entitlement. And, in any case, this is more ‘History around Them’. SHP has always been keen to develop strategies for engaging students with buildings and sites in their own locality. A fifties council estate, a medieval parish church, a Victorian sewage works, a deserted village, and hundreds of other sites, can all provide potential for a worthwhile study. Each year at SHP’s annual conference, some creative practitioners share their strategies for engaging students with a site in their local area. You’ll find some lovely examples of their work in the ‘Teaching Ideas and Activities’ section of our website. Mary Mills and Catherine McHarg of English Heritage (and regular workshop leaders at the SHP conference) have produced plethora of good stuff on using the historic environment for the Heritage Learning website   You’ll also find some important principles and strategies in the recent resource that Ian Dawson and Chris Culpin have produced for our own website [ click here ].

In my own school this year, we’re planning to make more of the history around us in Somerset. Next term our Year 8 students will be producing an interpretations panel for the civil war battle that took place just beyond the rugby pitches. In the summer term, they’re going to be researching what the Victorian buildings in their own villages and towns can tell us about Victorian minds. For our Year 7 students we’re planning to team up with English and Art during activities week to do some creative and critical work at a nearby Elizabethan house.

If you have an example of worthwhile ‘History Around Us’ from your own school then please tell us about it in a comments below.

Michael has been SHP Director since 2008. He is responsible for the strategic direction of SHP, ensuring that the project provides an independent source of ideas and experience for the teaching of history in schools