What do you remember about the history of your schooldays? History didn’t make much of an impression on me in primary school, where we started at the stone age when we were seven and worked our way through to the Victorians by the time we left – after all the twentieth century was hardly history was it? This did at least give us the sense of chronology that is now sadly missing from school history teaching. For me the history bug began to bite in the early years of secondary school where an inspirational teacher, Mrs Goodridge, allowed us to do things. Amongst other things, we made a model Viking Village and drew huge plans of the interior of a Tudor ship. Doing things works, it is memorable and it engages the audience. My own former pupils built historically and mathematically correct replicas of the Globe Theatre and made miniature cob cottages (well, minus the cow dung – health and safety rules). The young people I work with rarely forget having their constipation cured by the barber surgeon.
I will say more about young people and history when we get to ‘Y’ because it is not just the young we need to inspire. Television programmes – from costume dramas to Who Do You Think You Are? – help to give people a sense of the past, albeit not always a very accurate one. Series such as Victorian/Edwardian/Tudor Monastery Farm go one better and are rooted in quality historical research. The interest that these programmes inspire should be cultivated. Adults and children alike need to be encouraged to engage with their heritage and what better way to do this than by making history relevant and personal. People are far more likely respond positively to the history of their own town or family than they are to the politics or economics of a far flung country in years gone by.
History is being squeezed from the school curriculum in favour of ‘more relevant’ subjects. History makes us who we are, it makes our nations what they are too, for better or worse. What could be more relevant than that? Historians of all persuasions need to take up the cudgels for their subject and see that it does not itself become history. Those of us who attempt to impart our love of the subject, must be innovative in order to capture our audience, in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. We need to meet our learners where they are, be that in a classroom, through the pages of a book or using social media. It is a challenge but needs to be done, history is too precious not to share and too much fun to ignore.