Hodder History Expert Blog

By Tony Fox
24 Oct
Anniversaries are a time to reflect, and we are coming up to a number of significant ones. I have recently had two important  opportunities to assess my views on anniversaries and how to use them in the classroom.

The first was on 9th September this year (which incidentally saw the birth of Robert and Lewis, my twin sons, a date we will now mark each year). But 9th September was also the 500th Aniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field. I wanted to use this opportunity to develop a series of lessons looking into the Battle. It is a good case study of significance: undoubtedly an important event, but yet which is not regarded as significant by modern English and modern Scots.  Although it is seen as the greatest defeat Scotland suffered, it seems overshadowed in popular memory by the Scottish victory at Bannockburn and the brutality of Culloden.
Why do we mark some battles and not others? Napoleon came close with ‘History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.’ We do emphasize some events and neglect others, to suit our present prejudices, and our schemes of work are a reflection of this.
Flodden should be remembered as the final battle in 500 years of conflict, creating a lasting peace, but it sits neglected, like Stamford Bridge before it. If I had the curriculum time available I would use it as the starting point to the build up towards the Act of Union, but alas, time is against me.  This is a topic which will have to be left out.

The second opportunity was when I looked at the 1918 armistice with my year 9 students. In a school where over half of them have one or both parents as members of the armed forces,  November 11th is a hugely significant event for these students, and with the coming anniversary of the outbreak of the war approaching it has an added emphasis. I considered looking at why we remember the end of the great war (with the focus on significance), but changed this to an interpretation focused enquiry on how we remember the Great War, looking at all the ways it is marked, such as in poetry, humour, images and memorials. 
I was struck with how easily students related the Great War to current conflicts, making links I had not previously considered, and felt that I developed my understanding of the question as much as the students. I felt as though we learnt together, and I will certainly approach the way I teach the coming anniversaries differently.

I can honestly say that I have a new insight into how to plan enquiries focused on anniversaries. I will continue to ensure that they are relevant to the experiences of my students, as their contextual knowledge is a key element in a successful outcome.
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