Hodder History Expert Blog

The 30th National Schools History Project Conference: Day One
By Tony Fox
10 Jul
Labelled as 'Inspiring professional development for History teachers' I had high hopes for this years' conference. It was my twelfth, although this was my first full conference in a decade, and the first in which I hosted a fringe session as well as providing a workshop.

I had no set outcomes in mind; no plan to ‘mine’ any particular seam of valuable deposits of historical understanding. I planned to simply enjoy the experience, enjoy being back amongst this fantastic community.
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With this being the 30th National conference, in his welcome, Michael Riley set the tone of the conference this way: he showed us an emotive image of himself, from 30 years ago, holding his newly born daughter in his arms. Michael excels in finding and using powerful images; images that are emotive as well as informative.

The strong sense of community that exists within SHP was highlighted in this welcoming session, those new to the History community were brought into ‘our family’, and those of us who see themselves as part of the community had this feeling confirmed. 
Memory is the residue of thought
Richard McFahn led the first plenary. He explained a few ideas from his History Resource Cupboard. As people from his audience formed a human timeline I wondered if Ian Dawson would appear later in the weekend with one of his own - of course he did! More of that tomorrow.

I was impressed by Richard's insistence that most importantly we should be “getting kids to think”, and noted his quote from Daniel Willingham – 'memory is the residue of thought', as this struck me as similar to an idea I would be proposing in my workshop; that memorials can be 'thought objects'.

Richard certainly got me thinking, and I was already planning adaptations of two of his worksheets including one based on his enquiry question about 1930s Germany: Why do you think less and less people were overheard criticising the Nazis in pubs and bars as time went on?
Engage with landscape
I was the first to arrive at Workshop A-5 'Keep Calm and Stay Local'. I had a feeling I knew one of the workshop leaders, but my memory did not tell me how I knew her so I said nothing until I'd worked it out. This did not take long, for as soon as Prof. Carenza Lewis spoke I was taken back to the earliest episodes of TV's Timeteam when she managed to keep the mischievous boys in some semblance of order. I'll admit I was more than a little star-struck.

Sarah Longair who co-hosted the workshop took our small group through a 'History around us' investigation. The workshop helped me to better understand how to engage students with the landscape, something I'll find very useful in my work for the Battlefields Trust work.

As a self-confessed map geek, I was in my element investigating the maps of Gainsborough, but the best gift was the link to the National Library of Scotland's online maps. I use overlays and layers on Google Maps and Google Earth - in fact in my workshop the next day I used them for North Ormesby and Vilna. Hence I was overjoyed to see this resource.
Free resources from the Battlefields Trust
Unfortunately I missed the Hodder wine reception as I was setting up my fringe session that followed.

I titled it: Looking at when life really was 'nasty, brutish, and short', with help from The Battlefields Trust. Here I demonstrated the free and adaptable resources the Battlefields Trust education team have produced over the past 18 months. They can be found here.

The feedback confirmed my conviction that what we are doing is useful, and the decision to make the resources adaptable was correct. It was nice to receive praise for sharing.
Ordinary people matter
After dinner, the final plenary was, 'Putting ordinary people back into the history of the Industrial Revolution', with Hannah Barker, Sarah Alderson and Daisy Horsley.

Prof. Barker spoke on her work in Manchester, and then unplugged her latest work: Family and Business during the Industrial Revolution. I say UN-plugged as she encouraged us NOT to go out and buy it, as it'll be on open access soon. Very generous!

I was entranced by their work and impressed by the depth they had gone into.

Sarah spoke on how she had brought Hannah's work into the classroom, looking at the lives of ordinary people of a few houses in a Manchester street. They showed how to adapt it to any school. I'll find it simple to adapt the worksheet entitled: Who lived in Thomas Street in 1841?  

Daisy finished the session (what she called ‘the graveyard shift of the graveyard shift’), asking an appreciative audience “Why bother with local history?” and then explaining exactly why we should bother.

I left for the bar knowing others thought like me.
And so to the bar…
The conference was not yet over for the day. Sitting outside in the warm summer evening air, I shared ideas, and thoughts with my friends: I feel reluctant to call these people colleagues as they are so much more than that. I talked about Vin Garbutt, re-enactors and local history, and as usual began to form plan for next year's conference.

I went to bed, with my head spinning, not from the rather weak beer, but from the ideas we had discussed.

I loved the day.

Tony Fox

Tony Fox took his PGCE at Trinity and All Saints College (the home of  SHP) in 2000. He is a Humanities teacher based in the North East of England. He has Chaired the Durham Branch of the Historical Association since 2005, is the South Durham regional Officer for the Battlefields Trust, and is an advisor to various heritage bodies and groups in the region.
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