Ruth Lingard and Helen Snelson have presented their work on teaching a representative and coherent British 17th century for the HA at the 2021 Virtual Conference. All the resources accompanying the session are free to download from this blogpost.
You can find the link to a folder of all the resources here. In the folder you will find life stories of people who lived in the period 1625-1714 written in the first person. Some of them are names that are more popularly known, others are less familiar. For each person there is an accompanying worksheet. There is also a summary of the 16 stories and a suggestion for a summary activity. All the resources can be downloaded and adapted. Some exemplars of stories adapted for SEND have been provided. The resources as presented can be used to teach a coherent overview of the period in 2-3 lessons. This might be, for example, to bridge between topics, or prior to a depth study on a particular aspect of the period. However, colleagues may decide to use just a few stories, or parts of stories, and they could be used at the end of a depth story.
The enquiry question that frames these stories could be ‘What matters about the 17th Century?’ That is, what mattered to people at the time and what matters were they concerned with. The first person stories written as narratives enable pupils to be introduced to key knowledge about the period 1625-1714, including:
- The importance of religion to people’s lives, the way it divided people and how that drove a civil war and its aftermath.
- The impact of a civil war on all the people and the country, both at the time and its legacy.
The impact of England’s growing trade and settlement of the Americas, as a place of emigration, domination, hope, horror and change.
- The substantive concepts of power, parliament, monarchy, liberty, rule of law and how they develop in this period.
- The interplay of science and religion – new understandings of space and time.
The stories are diverse in their range of place and people. (For example, the people whose stories they tell lived in different parts of the UK and beyond, lived across the time period, had different backgrounds and roles in society.) They enable an exploration of relationship, in its widest sense, and they avoid oversimplification of a complex world. History stays messy!
Stories are popular with history teachers – they are engaging and ‘sticky’ – but they can be problematic. Sometimes a story can be so powerful that it makes a broader, deeper and richer understanding more difficult. For example, the story of the assassination at Sarajevo that sparked war in 1914 can take up too much space in students’ minds when they are trying to make sense of what caused the First World War. For example, perhaps the key stories of Rosa Parks’ bus ride and Martin Luther King’s speech, while rich and important in themselves, have hindered a more nuanced understanding of the struggle US Civil Rights’ struggle of their period? For example, a focus on the killing of Wat Tyler at Smithfield obscures the more complex story of the People of 1381 and can make it harder to make meaning about the greatest uprising in England (and some historians assert Tyler didn’t even exist!). We do need to be careful with story. However, stories which are carefully crafted to lead our students to a wider and deeper understanding of people and place can be very powerful teaching tools. The stories here are crafted so that they, hopefully, do some of that. The stories are not inward looking, they reach out to the wider issues. That means that they are not written in a way that only includes what is exactly known about the people and their concerns. They also include detail that is historically accurate about the places, events and cultures that existed around these people. It is in this way that they help students to think about what matters about the 17th century and to learn what mattered to its people.
The stories are also rich in the disciplinary concepts of change, and similarity and difference. The stories introduce many people, but the ‘lead’ characters are more likely to be people from more privileged positions. This should be brought to the attention of pupils. It will enable teachers to draw out issues relating to the fragmentary nature of what survives to us from the past and how this can shape our sense of who and what is historically significant. The meaning that people in the 17th century gave to their lives may sit oddly with 21st century popular perceptions of what was significant in British history from that period. By raising these issues with pupils we can explore the silences and the gaps in our knowledge.
We hope these resources will be useful and that they will also serve to increase teacher, as well as pupil, knowledge of the period 1625-1714.
Update October 2021: huge thanks to Natalie Kesterton for adding a PDF of two lessons and SEND materials to the Drive folder!