Hodder History Expert Blog

New teaching resources from the Battlefields Trust
By Tony Fox
06 Jul
Over seven years ago I was writing the first Hodder History Nest blog. As the saying goes ‘a lot of water has been passed since’ . . .  or something like that.

Then, three years ago, with the relaunch of the site I was invited back when I wrote:

'Back in September 2010 I was writing a set of blogs to launch the Hodder History Nest. A lot has changed for me since then, both personally and professionally and in this first blog for the new History Nest I wanted to muse on change, how it affects us and how we teach about it.' (Hodder History Nest 22nd October 2013)

Both times we had just had additions to the family. Now as I write they are all at school, the eldest in Year one, and the twins now spend half a day in the Nursery class, at the same school. The most significant change for me is therefore, as a parent of school-age children, that I am now a consumer of the services schools provide, as well as a supplier, something which has altered my outlook only slightly. Another significant change is that now I am a supply teacher I have the flexibility to work on a number of interesting projects, for bodies both inside and outside the usual educational system, to the envy of some friends and colleagues.

Two years ago, in the Budget of March 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a grant of £1m for the commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt (25th October 2015), hence from this Agincourt600 (http://www.agincourt600.com/) formed, with Prof. Anne Curry as Academic co-chair; the Prof. Curry who was President of the Historical Association from 2008 to 2011.

Agincourt600 have developed, and continue to develop, educational courses and resources. One of these is The Historical Association’s inaugural 'Teacher Fellowship Programme', which was launched through funding provided by Agincourt600 (https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/resource/8875/agincourt-600). The Historical Association’s Teacher Fellows have developed resources about the later Middle Ages, and they are looking to publish these for use in the next academic year (2017-18).

Another project funded by Agincourt600 was a Battlefields Trust project. It was this project that I was invited onto. Our brief was similar to the Historical Association Fellowship, in that we were to produce educational resources, but, to avoid any duplication, we were asked to avoid the Battle of Agincourt itself, and focus on England.

The Battlefields Trust aims to:
  • Save battlefields from destruction by motorways, housing developments etc.
  • Provide a range of battlefield-related activities and information, including the quarterly magazine  'Battlefield', battlefield walks and conferences
  • Liaise with local and national organisations to preserve battlefields for posterity
  • Improve the interpretation and presentation of battlefields (http://www.battlefieldstrust.com)
We felt that the brief from Agincourt600 allowed us to fulfil two of these aims: provide battlefield-related activities and information, and improve the interpretation of Battlefields.

We decided to focus on just two Battlefields:  Shrewsbury and Stoke Field.
  • In 1403, when Harry ‘Hotspur’ faced his King at Shrewsbury, it was the first battle, on English soil, where troops armed with the longbow, fought against each other in the tactical formations that would be so effective in 1415, against the French.
  • The battle of Stoke Field was fought on the morning of the 16th June 1487, the destruction of the Yorkist army ending ‘The War of the Roses’, but also; with the  gradual introduction of gunpowder weapons, the ending of the supremacy of the longbow.
We therefore feel these two battles represent the starting point and end point of an Agincourt era in warfare.

With a dozen people collaborating on the project, I was expecting a certain amount of inertia in the initial stages, but the first Skype meeting was very productive, roles were agreed readily, and enthusiasm was high. It was agreed that we would use the file sharing service, Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com). Effectively each person worked individually, but could see what the others had produced and comment upon it, which created momentum. We found using Dropbox highly successful, as this example shows: Paul Hitchin (http://warriorsfortheworkingday.com/index.htm) produced some beautiful images of the combatants, initially four images. He also posted his rough draft line drawings. I surprised Paul by asking if I could use his drafts as well as the full colour ones. He eventually produced outline drawings for all the images he produced. This allowed us to add a simple colouring exercise to the list of resources.

It is often argued that simple colouring tasks like this have no place in the classroom, but as we developed the resources we found the classroom activities took a lesser and lesser role in the pack. We found that we had produced a series of interpretations of aspects of the Battles, with the classroom activities simply picking out a few to highlight.

The range of resources is quite remarkable. They go way beyond a presentation of the Battles. A proportion of my colleagues are practicing, or retired teachers, but we had artists, museum curators, and academic historians as part of the team. As a result, only some of the resources are designed to be used in the normal classroom environment. The classroom resources are designed to enhance a scheme or lesson. We did not wish to be too prescriptive, as this tends to narrow the audience for the resources. We deliberately produced resources that would be familiar to teachers, because this makes them easier to use, and, reduces the amount of instruction needed to go with a resource.

The other resources would enhance a visit to the Battlefield, either actually, or virtually, as well as providing context for the Battles.
  • The Biographies are detailed enough to stand alone as a separate publication, as too would the Medieval society diagram, which could grace any Medieval History textbook.
  • We have also produced a number of guides, not only to the battlefields, but also to the evidence.
  • I recommend reading ‘An introduction to the sources’ before using the source based activities, as this not only provides detailed context for the sources, but also encourages more detailed examination of the sources.
I became quite nostalgic for the Golden era of staff collaboration, for this felt like it. It was a pleasure to draft an idea, post it in the Dropbox folder and then await comments. People suggested improvements, gave encouragement, added expert knowledge and altered the drafts. I freely admit, most of my inspiration for the classroom activities I produced came from the work of my colleagues. It felt as though it was only the tight deadline that limited the amount of resources produced. I know I am not alone in having enjoyed the process of production, as most people expressed an interest in participating in future projects. I firmly believe, therefore, that the process has enhanced the quality of the resources we produced. The Battlefields Trust have, I believe, found a flexible model for the production of educational materials, one which allows true collaboration and the development of expertise.

Obviously I aim to recommend these resources to you, but I do so in the firm belief that these materials are exceptional in their range and quality. One Head Teacher commented that they are the highest quality resources he had seen in his career. As the resources are not very prescriptive, we are looking for feedback, especially as to how and why they are used. They are not the last word in resources for this period, or even these battles. In fact one photograph has encouraged me to explore the memorialisation of pre-20th Century Battlefields, with the aim of producing resources in the future. This is why, therefore, we are looking at how people use these. We wish to build on and improve resources further.

Let us know how you get on.

Tony Fox

The Battlefield Trust Agincourt600 resources can be found on the Battlefield Trust Website : http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/page154.asp

You can email either Geoffrey.carter@battlefieldstrust.com  or foxy.foxburg@gmail.com to send feedback on the resources.
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