Hodder History Expert Blog

Working on the Magna Carta Anniversary
By Nigel Saul
10 Nov
In all our work for the Magna Carta anniversary, those of us involved on the various committees have been urged to think about ‘legacy’.  ‘Legacy’ is the magic word in the post-Olympics world.  Every project has to have ‘legacy’.  But what exactly does it mean?  Answering this question takes us to the very heart of what the anniversary is all about.

The Magna Carta anniversary is different from the various other anniversaries we’ll be marking in 2015.  These are mostly about battles, for example the Waterloo anniversary in June and Agincourt in October.  Magna Carta is not about a battle.  It’s not even so much about an event, although it is a specific event that gives us a date to hang the celebration on. It’s more about a cause, a continuing process – that of winning freedom under the law.  So it’s essentially freedom that we’re celebrating next year, and freedom that we’re asking people to think about. ‘Legacy’ will be about getting people to think more, and more deeply, about freedom, how freedom may be defined, possible threats to freedom, and how the freedoms we cherish may be better protected.

How do we propose getting people to do this thinking?  The answer is, by a whole variety of means – among them, conferences, debates, discussions, books, articles, and the creation of online teaching resources.

An abundance of teaching resources about the Charter and its legacy will be available online by the spring of next year.  These will be produced by organisations that are expert at this kind of thing, notably the British Library, National Archives, Parliament Education Service and the Historical Association.  There will be a range of lesson plans for teachers and, with them, source materials for use by learners of all ages and states of knowledge.  A detailed historical commentary on the Charter is being produced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project on Magna Carta, based at the University of East Anglia.  This last will be invaluable for anyone doing in-depth research or an extended essay.

Among the many other projects and events that are being organised, I think I would single out two as of especial interest. 

The first is the Historical Association’s ‘Great Debate’, a biennial knock-out competition that pits teams of school pupils against each other in debates on a particular theme.  This year the theme is freedom in history, and the final of the competition will be held at Royal Holloway University of London in March next year.

One other worth mentioning is the Young Lawyers Project, an initiative which involves sending young trainee lawyers into schools as guest speakers leading discussions about freedom.

What is clear from all the events and activities being planned is that they are not going to be exclusively about history, much less about medieval history.  In schools, they will range over the syllabuses on Politics and Citizenship.  For pupils in the 10-13 age bracket, engagement with Magna Carta will come principally in KS3 History.  For pupils of 15 or more, at Sixth Form level, it will come mainly in Politics courses.  For pupils of all ages, issues of freedom will be raised in Citizenship lessons.  The legacy of Magna Carta lives on.

Nigel Saul
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