From Martin Hunt’s booklet on Teaching Significance (Manchester Metropolitan University, unpub.)
a) The significance of events of the Second World War
The following is a list of 10 of the events in the Second World War. Take each in turn and discuss why it was a significant event. Which of them do you think was the most significant event. Give reasons for your choice.
- The replacement of Neville Chamberlain by Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister
- The evacuation of British troops at Dunkirk, 1940.
- The Battle of Britain, 1940
- Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, 1941
- Hitler declares war on the USA, 1941
- The Battle of El Alamein, 1942
- The Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-3
- TheD-Day landings, Normandy, 1944
- Hitler commits suicide, 1945
- The dropping of the atomic bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945
bi) Here are two accounts of murder:
- At Stalybridge in 1850, a seller of gingerbread, as a result of some petty dispute, was deliberately kicked to death.
- At Sarajevo in 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria Hungary was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip.
Two individuals killed, both had their lives cut short and were mourned by friends and family. Are they equally important in history? Explain your answer.
bii) The Boston (1770) and Peterloo (1819) massacres involved the deaths of very few people, so why should they be considered relevant topics for study?
c) Reviewing a unit of work: choose (say) the 4 most significant events in the unit you have just covered. Pupils need to justify choice and defend challenge from other pupils.
Example: From the following list, choose the 4 events which you think were most significant and give reasons for your choice:
Henry VIII became Supreme Head of the Church/The Dissolution of the Monasteries/The Pilgrimage of Grace/Wales had to accept English laws, 1543/The reign of MaryI/The Elizabethan Church Settlement/The 1601 Poor Law/The growth of London (50,000 to 200,000 in the 16th Century/The opening of the Globe Theatre in 1599/The execution of Mary Queen of Scots/The defeat of the Spanish Armada/The death of Elizabeth I, 1603.
d) Explanation cards
Encouraging explanation of why an event is significant. This can be done with a list or set of cards for group work, which could include some ‘dummies’- less likely explanations, and the pupils have to select the more likely ones and be able to explain their choice.
Example: Why was the Great Fire of London a significant event in history? From the following, choose the 3 best explanations of the importance of the Great Fire in history.
e) Precis: Pupils are asked to write a short paragraph of about 100 words in which they describe, explain and analyse and event. Much of the value of this exercise lies in the preparatory work of selecting and rejecting content as the pupils come to realise just how few words are available to them and really have to focus on those aspects which they feel to be most significant. This approach also encourages the virtues of writing both precisely and concisely.
Example: You are a reporter working for The Times in 1913. It is your day off and you decide to attend The Derby at Epsom. From your position near Tattenham Corner, you witness Emily Davison throwing herself in front of the King’s horse, with fatal consequences. You immediately contact your editor, who asks you to write a brief account of the incident and why you think it is important.
f) Categorising the nature of significance
Following the contention that an important part of ‘selling the subject’ is to keep reminding pupils of the relevance and wider significance of history, there may be times whem the message can be presented as an exercise. Not all topics wil generate the quantity and range of the points listed in the example, but most will be capable of a similar list.
The study of the slave trade and its abolition is important because:
Task 1: Study each of the 12 explanations carefully and then place its number in one of these 5 categories:
Task 2: Which of the above 12 explanations do you think is the most important? Explain your choice.
g) Access a photograph of young German volunteers cheering and waving at the outbreak of World War I, 1914 (see for instance, Shuter, P. and Child, J. The Changing Face of Britain, Heinemann Educational, 1989: p. 11 – or get a picture from Google Images).
The idea is that the pupils are firstly presented with the photograph and the wider significance of teh event only becomes clear as further information is made available.
1. Show the pupils the photograph, with no contextual information. What does it tell you?
2. When you learn that the date is 3rd August 1914, how does this add to its meaning and significance?
3. When you learn that it is taken in Berlin, how does this alter its significance?
4. When you learn that approximately 40-50 years previously, Prussia, of which Berlin was the capital, fought 3 successful (and fairly short) wars against Denmark, Austria and France to unite Germany, how does this affect the significance of the photograph?
5. Why might this photograph have been published?
6. When you remember what fighting was like in WWI, how does this influence the significance of the event in this photograph?
h) As History PGCE students, consider the significance of the Norman Conquest from the point of view of people living at the time in England and Normandy, and from the perspective of people living in Britain today.
What are the problems and difficulties of teaching the topic to 12 year old pupils?
i) Deciding what is historically signifcant in a source
Read the following source and decide (i) which sentences are, for you, of historical significance; (ii) state what that significance is for you and (iii) select the one, which is, for you, most historically significant, giving reasons for your choice.
‘ The reduction of the hours that children may work from eight to six hours a day will, in the opinion of many, be a great evil. It will either force mill-owners to dispense with the use of children altogether by the adaption of machinery to do the work or it will reduce the proportion of the wages of the children in proportion to the reduction of their work or it will be a new tax on the manufacturer compelling the master to pay as much for six hours as he has done for eight hours. If the wages of the children should be reduced, the parents will scarcely think it worth while to send their children to the mill for the scanty pittance as will be earned, especially in the woollen mills, where the oil used (which, however, helps their health by preventing dust), renders it necessary to change the children’s clothes, when they leave the mill. And is the same wages should be paid for six hours’ work as for eight hours, it will of course be a new tax on manufacture, which will increase the price for the goods, injure trade and pull down profits and wages. We think it a false-short-sighted humanity that would limit the hours of children of the working-classes to six hours a day until they reach 13 years of age. Most of the practical men we have seen declare that it will only give the children so much time to run about the streets and do mischief. Three hours a day are however to be devoted to school, which in itself is a great, undoubted advantage, but then arises another most serious objection to the new Bill, namely that it provides for schools which will be thoroughly church schools and entirely under clerical control.’
How could you adapt this source for use with Year 8 pupils to draw how the historical significance of the issues raised?
j) Assessing the historical significance of the Black Death
One of the more challenging, though welcome, features of the National Curriculum is the requirement that pupils should be asked to assess the significance of events, people and changes. This is difficult for pupils because they lack the widespread knowledge and the abstract levels of thinking which is needed to achieve this requirement. For some pupils you may feel that this particular requirement is too difficult with many topics. The also need to know the difference between the results of an event and its significance. For example, using text-books, it is relatively straight-forward to identify the results of the Black Death, but what of its significance?
Consider the following approach.
1 Discuss with the pupils why we need to understand the significance of an event, why was it important and how does it help us in our understanding of history. Why can some events in history said to be more important than were others? In order to judge its importance we need to look at not only what happened immediately after the event but sometimes centuries later. We can at times ask, how has that event affected our lives today?
2 Having dealt with all the usual aspects of the Black Death, try this activity with a Year 7 class and find out just what they are capable of understanding.
3 Begin with a brainstorm, have they got any ideas why the Black Death might be an important event in history? [It will be interesting to note whether they mention any of the points on the worksheet. They may have others, which are as good! One can never underestimate what pupils are capable of given the opportunity]
4. Distribute a copy of the worksheet to each pupil. [See note on differentiation, ‘5′ in this list] Explain the layout and then go through each item in turn, explain the meaning but try not to give too much away.
5. Explain their task. In groups, they are to find out information from the selection of text-books, some old, some new, and other information that might be available [e.g a print-off from a CD-ROM on the ‘Black Death’]. The pupils have then to try to find out events and other information which supports (backs-up/ substantiates) the statements on the left hand side of the sheet. The pupils then fill in the box on the right-hand side. To help them they will need to be told to look for ‘key words’ in the contents pages and index, such as ‘feudal’, ‘monasteries’, ‘wars or quarrels’ with the king. Differentiation may be achieved by giving some pupils precise page references, while the very able could be encouraged to be critical of the statements presented and , if possible, make some suggestions of their own.
6. Feedback from the groups. Use the board to gather all the points, adding yourself anything omitted. Pupils to complete any gaps on their own sheet.
7. Set the final task. To use the information on the sheet to write a piece of extended writing (at least one side) as an answer to the top of the sheet, ‘Why was the Black Death an important event in history?’ Encourage them to use the ‘back-up’ information to support the general statements. Encourage the able to use their initiative to include extra information or additional reasons for the event’s importance.
SIGNIFICANCE: Why was the Black Death an important event in history?
Using the text-books and any other reference material available, try to complete the boxes on the right with information, which supports the statements on the left.
Suggested exercise when considering the significance of Henry VIII’s reign in British history.
- Show the students a picture of Henry VIII. Ask the class to put their hands up if they know who the person is in the picture.
- Give the students a blank postcard (this can be done either as individuals or in small groups.
- Ask them to jot down a list of the things they know about Henry VIII.
- Ask them to put the items on the list in order of how important they were in terms of their impact on the course of British history.
- When they have finished, ask them how many of them knew that he had 6 wives (as a supplementary question, you could ask them – especially in they are working in groups – if they know what happened to the wives).
- Ask them how important having 6 wives was in terms of the impact on Britain’s subsequent history.
- Either ask them to make a case for any of the other things on their lists, and/or explain to them the influence that Henry’s changes and actions in the field of religion had on subsequent British history.