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History Blog

Teaching History with 100 Objects - 1
By Richard Woff
03 Dec
Teaching history with 100 objects was launched in September 2014 with two other uploads in October and November. Over the last three weeks I have been working on the penultimate upload of objects which will go live this Friday (5 December). That will bring the total to nearly 80, leaving the final 20 to be got ready for mid-January. 

If you have not seen the website it is at

The power of objects
The project originated from discussions in the schools team at the British Museum as we looked at how we might support teachers preparing for the new National Curriculum history programme of study for England. We have always put objects at the heart of our teaching in the museum both because of the power of objects to interest and motivate students and their potential to unlock different aspects of history. Michael Riley’s idea of ‘fruitcake history’ is a close parallel to our thinking – give students something complex that allows you to stimulate their interest and then look at how engagement with it leads to unravelling strands of historical investigation.

Starting points for every topic
Funding from the Department for Education allowed us to build our little germ of an idea into a comprehensive set of resources which spans key stages 1 to 3 and provides starting points for aspects of every main topic cited in the programme of study. The objects are allocated to particular key stages on the website and the teaching ideas and links take some account of that, but the files are written for teachers not students so there is no reason why an object should not be used at other key stages, at GCSE or in Years 12 and 13 for that matter. For example, the two key stage 2 objects from Benin could as easily be used alongside the key stage three objects linked with nineteenth century colonialism; the badge for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and Florence Nightingale’s writing box, which are key stage 1 objects, would fit perfectly with Victorians at key stage 3; the key stage 2 Romano-British objects would be excellent for a local history study or a period before 1066 at key stage 3.

From a museum near you…
Not all the lead objects are from the British Museum; almost half of them are from museums around the country. This has enriched the project immensely and, of course, means that teachers should be able to find objects in museums near their schools, though the focus of the project is on providing resources for the classroom rather than for museum visits. Some of the objects from regional museums are famous or of precious materials or high-quality workmanship, for example, George Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1 from Head of Steam in Darlington, the Alfred Jewel from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford or the Happisburgh hand axe from Norwich Castle Museum. Other objects may be more surprising: a British copy of the Bayeux Tapestry from Reading Museum, equipment used to force-feed suffragettes from the Galleries of Justice Museum in Nottingham and the charred remains of a woman aircraft worker’s identity pass from Yate Heritage Centre – the only thing recovered from her handbag when the factory was bombed in 1941. However, what every object has in common is its power to lead into a number of big, significant historical stories.

The Matlaske reliquary; late 15th century AD © Norwich Castle

My next blog... 
...will explain the structure and learning features of the site but if you want to explore in the meantime click here or on the image below.


Richard Woff

Head of Project: Teaching History with 100 Objects
Department of Learning, Volunteers and Audiences
The British Museum
London WC1B 3DG

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