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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Historical Research And Year 8

I've been ordered to teach Year 8 history this coming year. It's not that I know nothing about history, I know plenty, especially about the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the eras being studied, but teaching it? How?

One thing we're apparently supposed to do is teach the difference between primary and secondary sources. Here I'm on firmer ground. But how many primary sources do we have for the Middle Ages that you can teach to thirteen year olds?

So I have decided to start the year with other primary sources, just to give them an idea.  I've got some newspaper articles from the 1960s about the Beatles visit to Melbourne. I've also discovered the joys of Trove, the National Library site that is in the process of digitising newspapers from 1803 on and the Women's Weekly between 1933 and 1982.

The Weekly is my primary source of choice. I picked a PDF of the issue for September 16 1939, which I can put on USB stick and show on an interactive whiteboard. There's a cover with a cute picture of a baby. So what, I might ask, was happening in September 1939? A student with an iPad can look it up: the beginning of World War II. Priorities? But this is a women's magazine. You aren't going to put a picture of a soldier on the cover or even the PM. And the first article is all about how women should be keeping busy and the author's mother had eight kids and never bought a cake or used an electric iron and did fine. There are photos of happy housewives cleaning.

Flipping further into the issue, you do find references to the war. There's a lot of human interest stuff - a letter from a girl in Poland assuring her mother she'll be fine(despite the Nazi invasion), pictures of cute kids being evacuated from London to the countryside, advice on stocking your medicine cabinet and how you, as a woman, can contribute to the war effort.

There is also plenty of fiction, knitting patterns, movie reviews(Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier gets a good one), fashion photos, an article about those cute kids Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and ads for feminine-themed products. - soap, face powder, corsets, floor polish, baby formula.

And I love it. If I was writing a story set in Australia in the 1930s, this magazine would tell me how ordinary people lived, what they fantasised about, how much stuff cost in those days, what was on at the movies...

I will also look for some secondary sources:"Daily life in Australia in 1939" perhaps.

I may show them some of the research I did on the Beatles visit to Melbourne in 1964; you can now save newspaper articles to your USB stick at the State Library, and I did.

When I do have to get on to the Middle Ages, perhaps images will do some of the primary sources for me - peasants in the fields, a feast in the castle, war, there are illuminated manuscripts for them all.

For Vikings, there's that Arab traveller who describes the Vikings in Russia as the dirtiest people he'd ever seen, must find that on line somewhere... He also describes a funeral for a chieftain, very gruesome, including a human sacrifice of a slave girl who ends up being killed to keep the chieftain company in the Otherworld, AFTER some other horrible things, but I'm not sure I'd be allowed to show them that. They'd like the bit about dirty Vikings, though.
Can I persuade them that history is important? That research is worth doing?

Let's see how it goes.

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