Using family history to reveal the people behind 19thC public health statistics

 Activities, GCSE  Comments Off on Using family history to reveal the people behind 19thC public health statistics
Apr 302018

It’s often difficult for students to understand the individual human impact of problems such as infant mortality or epidemic diseases, topics studied as part of the history of medicine and of public health. One way of revealing the people behind the bigger picture is to use examples from your own family history as what Rob Phillips called Initial Stimulus Material (ISM).

Here I’ve described two examples – how my grandparents’ entry on the 1911 census can reveal the impact of high infant mortality and, going further back, how my great, great grandmother’s death certificate reveals the impact of epidemic disease.

You can read their stories here …


 Posted by at 4:49 pm

Population: Continuities and Changes

 Activities, GCSE, KS3  Comments Off on Population: Continuities and Changes
Feb 182018

The power of simple demonstrations!

This website contains some quite complex activities – but then we want students to understand that history is complex and to develop plenty of knowledge so complexity is good! However a simple activity can also have a very powerful impact on students’ understanding, particularly when dealing with an overview of long-term patterns.

One example I love is the activity where you use 20 students to represent the adult population of Britain and take them through the sequence of Reform Acts – at the beginning of the activity in 1830 only 1 student out of 20 is standing because he is the only voter – i.e. he represents the 5% of the population who could vote but with each reform more students stand up in proportion to the number of voters. The fact that only 6 are standing in 1884 is very powerful and very visible, rising to 17 out of 20 in 1918.

You can see that activity and the illustrative PowerPoint sequence HERE …

The new activities we’ve now added to the site provide overviews of the population history of England or Britain, using students to represent the changes in the patterns of population. These activities cover:

  1. continuities and changes in the total population since the Roman period
  2. the distribution of population between countryside and towns
  3. the geographical distribution of the largest towns

The first activity comes with a PowerPoint sequence (which you could turn into a film) featuring Lego bricks as alternatives to students but if you have the room and the confidence then using students may have more impact and be more memorable and therefore re-usable when you ask students ‘do you remember when we …?’

You can find these activities HERE …


 Posted by at 1:13 pm

Exploring and Teaching Medieval History

 ETMH Project  Comments Off on Exploring and Teaching Medieval History
Feb 022018

The Historical Association has sent this new publication free to all secondary schools in England and Wales in week beginning 29 January.

The paper version going to schools is 96 pages long. An extended version with more articles on the teaching of the period and the history itself is available open-access on the HA website

If you have an enquiry about distribution of the publication because your school has not received a copy, you live elsewhere or have another connection with teaching please email the HA on with the subject header, Teaching Medieval History.

Linked to the publication I have added three items to this website which can be found HERE …

• An extended version of Martin Spafford’s article in ETMH on teaching about migration in the Middle Ages

• My subjective introduction to the publication – trying to explain why it contains what it does!

• An introductory guide to reading about the Middle Ages, aimed at new teachers with little background knowledge of the period.


 Posted by at 3:18 pm

New website supporting history teachers in Yorkshire

 Info  Comments Off on New website supporting history teachers in Yorkshire
Jan 302018

The Yorkshire History Education Partnership (YHEP), has been set up by colleagues at York and Leeds Trinity universities, to promote resources and events which support history teachers.

For more information see their website


 Posted by at 4:15 pm

New project: Aphra Behn and 17th century women

 Info  Comments Off on New project: Aphra Behn and 17th century women
Jan 292018

Martin Spafford, SHP Fellow, writes:

I’ve been meeting the people behind this project on Aphra Behn and think this could be exciting project for any teachers interested in bringing women’s history or the (often ignored but so important) late 17th century into the classroom – not to mention colonialism, espionage and sexuality! Any teacher willing to advise on resources and try them out would work alongside academics and theatre educators to bring fresh new material that could fascinate history students and offer links with the English and Performing Arts departments.

The team, at Loughborough University, are looking for teachers or teacher educators – especially those passionate about women’s history – to help them with advice and/or to try out resources. They have Behn’s spy letters as well as all her published writings.

See more information and contact details HERE …


 Posted by at 4:29 pm

University of Huddersfield Symposium for history teachers, June 25

 Info  Comments Off on University of Huddersfield Symposium for history teachers, June 25
Jan 272018

A day course, on 25 June 2018, run by members of the university’s history department, updating teachers on interpretations of and sources for major GCSE topics – Anglo-Saxon and Norman England, the American West and Nazi Germany, together with an introduction to the University’s Holocaust Learning Centre.

The programme introduction says:

This one-day event for teachers of history aims to give you a powerful injection of history, not only to feed your curiosity, but to give you ideas about how we use sources – and about how you might use them. We’ll offer four content sessions linked to aspects of GCSE History, by our own historians here at the University. These will focus on interpretations and sources, and take place in the History department, in the new Oastler Building. Lunch is included! In the afternoon, you’ll move to the Holocaust Learning Centre, which opens on campus in June 2018. You’ll get to talk with the centre’s curators about resources and events for teachers and students, and discuss using Holocaust primary sources in your teaching.

Full details of the programme and booking via:


Or contact Dr Lindsey Dodd / 01484 472590


 Posted by at 1:25 pm

New Resources for later medieval history at KS3, GCSE and A level

 A Level, GCSE, HA Agincourt, HA Teaching Fellow, KS3, Medieval  Comments Off on New Resources for later medieval history at KS3, GCSE and A level
Dec 222017

The HA has put online a range of open-access resources created by teachers on the HA’s Teacher Fellowship on later medieval history HERE …

These resources comprise materials on:

Medieval Marriage (Key Stage 3) – a role-play using a real dispute in York, exploring how marriage disputes were settled and what this tells us about the period

The Battle of Agincourt (GCSE) – a role-play helping students understand the narrative of events and the reasons for Henry V’s success

Hundred Years War sources (A-level) – a collection of source material on the events of 1415 to 1453 for use in courses and for independent studies

Wars of the Roses sources (A-level) – a discussion written for students which explores the nature of late medieval sources, how we use them and summarises contextual information about major sources

Wars of the Roses ‘Who’s Who’ (A-level) – activities to help students work out ‘who’s who’ 1437-1485 together with a lengthy set of mini-biographies of key figures students study

Medieval and Early Modern gallery (A-level) – an activity developing students’ sense of period through visual sources

We hope that early in 2018 an additional resource will be added on the Paston and their letters.


 Posted by at 3:25 pm

Fun Through Time: Planning a Thematic Unit for KS2

 Activities, Primary  Comments Off on Fun Through Time: Planning a Thematic Unit for KS2
Dec 022017

This is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared in Primary History in Autumn 2017.

It provides guidelines for planning and teaching a unit on ‘having fun across time’ for use in the later years of Key Stage 2 (or possibly Year 7) – investigating questions such as:

‘What did people do for fun in this period?’

‘Were people having fun in the same ways in the Middle Ages as in the Roman or Victorian periods?’

What did our parents and grandparents do for fun when they were children and how different are our activities?’

‘When were the greatest changes and why did they happen?’

However there are deeper purposes too. This enquiry uses the theme of ‘having fun’ (or, if you are in the south, ‘leisure activities’) to reinforce pupils’ chronological understanding and knowledge while at the same time also reinforcing their understanding of the process of enquiry.

You can see the full article HERE …


 Posted by at 2:45 pm

Medieval Public Health

 GCSE, Medieval  Comments Off on Medieval Public Health
Nov 162017

Dr Dolly Jorgensen is a leading environmental historian whose doctorate was on urban sanitation in England and Scandinavia from 1350-1600. She has written a number of articles on public health in medieval England which are available on her website:

These articles include a critique of the BBC programme presented by Dan Snow on medieval London in the Filthy Cities series in 2011. It’s a programme I only remember because I was so appalled by its approach (the lack of respect for the people of the time and for the evidence) that I abandoned it after ten minutes!

The article demonstrates how misleading a picture that programme created and is well-worth reading, both for the evidence and its broader discussion of how negative interpretations of the Middle Ages are a product of poorly conceived historical narratives based on assumptions about patterns of progress. Every period since the Middle Ages has had its reasons for looking down on the past (as Professor Carole Rawcliffe has demonstrated in detail in relation to Victorian discussions of medieval public health) and our own age is little or no different.

Download this article here …

See a discussion of Carole Rawcliffe’s work on this website here …

And there’s an old activity of mine that’s based on evidence from records from London here …


 Posted by at 9:34 am

Helping students understand more about studying history

 A Level, GCSE, Issues, KS3  Comments Off on Helping students understand more about studying history
Nov 082017

This diary entry introduces two brief discussions:

  1. Helping students identify different types of history books (for A level, possibly earlier)

This discussion is built around an A level textbook spread that never saw the light of day! In it I was trying to explain to students how an A level book I had written linked to other types of historical writings – ‘popular’ histories, university textbooks, monographs, articles and thence to sources. The questions it raises seem important – how can we help students, especially at A level, understand that there are different types of history books and writings and how can we help them navigate their way through the different types of books that they may encounter?

You can find this discussion here …

  1. What do we want students to understand about the process of ‘doing history’?

A development of ideas I’ve been playing with for a while, asking whether too much time is spent on the minutiae of the process of studying history and too little time on placing that detailed work in a bigger picture of the process that is clear to students. This discussion also looks at how classroom history differs from that undertaken by historians – a difference that may not be clear to students – and whether it’s important that students understand the differences.

You can find this discussion here …


 Posted by at 12:53 pm