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

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

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

Using Domesday Book to Explore the Norman Conquest

 Activities, GCSE, KS3  Comments Off on Using Domesday Book to Explore the Norman Conquest
May 292017

A pair of activities, suitable for both KS3 and GCSE, created by Ruth Lingard and Helen Snelson who teach in York, together with Professor Stephen Baxter of St. Peter’s College, Oxford whose research on Domesday Book underpins the material and activities.

The two activities are:

  • ‘Efficient and ingenious.’ Why is that an accurate description of the Domesday Survey and Norman government?
  • ‘What does Domesday Book reveal about the impact of 20 years of Norman rule?’

Introducing these activities Helen and Ruth comment:

“We find that students don’t easily connect Domesday Book with the Conquest itself beyond a superficial level. We also find that some textbooks cover the Domesday survey in very little depth. Extracts from Domesday Book itself are also hard to access for students. Using them seems like a good idea to enliven the topic, but they do need some adaption to be useful. These activities use adapted extracts from Domesday to give students a sense of what it includes and the opportunity to use Domesday Book as evidence for the impact of the Conquest.”

For the whole of the first activity and its resources click here

And for the second click here.


 Posted by at 1:54 pm

Helping students think about the provenance of sources

 A Level, Activities, GCSE, KS3  Comments Off on Helping students think about the provenance of sources
Feb 012017

Students often struggle with ‘provenance’ i.e. how to use what they know about the creator of a source to reflect on the utility or reliability of that source. This article suggests ways of helping students focus more effectively on provenance by studying the creator of source before they look at what it says or shows.

I have used examples related to the Norman Conquest as it’s a topic almost everyone knows to some degree.

You can read more HERE …


 Posted by at 4:17 pm

Understanding the English Succession: 1051-66

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Understanding the English Succession: 1051-66
Nov 262016

This activity for KS3 or GCSE has four brief stages with each stage representing a different date – 1051, 1059, 1065, January 1066. For each date students position individuals in relation to the crown to create a visual representation of who seemed most likely to be Edward’s successor at each date. I’ve tried to keep things as clear as possible, which isn’t easy given the complexity of the debates over the succession to the English crown in 1066. I’ve added notes on what historians are saying about the succession and why the idea of ‘rules’ about who had the best claim are misleading and hence unhelpful for students at any level.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 10:03 am

Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066
Nov 202016

It’s easy for students to assume that Edward the Confessor and Harold were English in every respect because they appear in the story of 1066 as the English leaders in contrast to the Norman Duke William. This short activity is designed to help students understand that the issue of nationality was more complicated than that!

I’ve also included a second very short simple activity about the pattern of English kings before 1066 – English or Danish? – to help students appreciate that kings of England were not necessarily English.

See the activities HERE …


 Posted by at 11:47 am

Why was William able to invade England in 1066?

 Activities, GCSE, KS3, Normans  Comments Off on Why was William able to invade England in 1066?
Nov 192016

This brief activity for GCSE (and possibly for KS3) looks at the longer-term Norman background to 1066, focussing on how William’s invasion was made possible by a combination of his military successes against neighbouring states and good fortune.

By the end of this activity students should know and understand that:

a) William had faced and beaten a number of attacks from surrounding states during the 1050s

b) If Edward the Confessor had died before 1060 William would have had great difficulty invading England because of threats to Normandy

c) William’s successes created a breathing space from local wars enabling him to invade England in 1066

d) His resulting reputation as a successful soldier enabled him to recruit followers for his invasion of England and he was able to recruit soldiers who would not have been keen to leave their lands if local wars were continuing.

See the activity HERE …


 Posted by at 10:22 am