A Sense of the Past: Archives and Creative Writing

The merits of using archives in the history classroom go without saying:

  • They – imperatively – help students understand the basic tenets of source-based research: what archives are; potential biases; gauging reliability of sources.
  • They encourage students to get excited about the past. This, for me, beats any conversation about the principles of historiography (no offense, historiography; you are still important).
  • The immediacy of archives allows students to take a hands-on engagement with histories of individuals, places and situations that are often relatable to their own lives.

However, archives can also play a significant role in a less obvious aspect of the curriculum: the creative writing strand in Literacy.

A few months ago, Professor Dominic Wyse delivered his inaugural professorial lecture here at the IOE, on the topic of creativity and the curriculum. He touched on the potential danger of replacing the creative writing process with didactic, rote grammar instruction. While grammar instruction is an absolute necessity, what is also a necessity is providing students with dedicated time, opportunity and encouragement to simply write creatively.

I apologise for this interminable introduction to today’s topic: archives as a catalyst for creative writing.  Take, for example, the role archives played in one musician’s song writing.

As a transplanted Canadian living in London, I am prone to nostalgia and sentimentality about anything related to Canada: maple syrup; Alice Munro; ice hockey (I don’t even like hockey); excessive friendliness; etc.

But really, what better incites a wave of nostalgia than music? Enter Canadian musician, John K Samson, also of the band, The Weakerthans. Through each of his albums, Samson scatters his lyrics with references to Canada (the loonie, GST, curling and his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba), in songs that are quiet, loud, melancholy and sweet.

Image via CBC

On his most recent solo album, Provincial, Samson took to the archives as inspiration for his lyrics. Samson describes the research-based approach he took for the record:

My idea was to research four different stretches of road in Manitoba and write three different songs about each of them and use techniques and research as well as exploring the places themselves and just try to use different strategies to try and get a sense of each of these places.

Samson went about creating a ‘musical map’ of Manitoba. He ‘talked to relatives, friends and strangers; he visited archives, a tuberculosis sanatorium-turned-RV park, a forgotten cemetery’ (johnksamson.com). With visits to the Archives of Manitoba, Samson was drawn to ‘the way the places were framed by someone’s eye back then. When I visited the sites they were different but unchanged. It gave me a richer idea of places’ (CBC).

We all know archives do their job when it comes to academic, historical research. But a well-referenced thesis or book doesn’t have to be their end point. At the heart of any archive collection is its potential for users (and writers) to piece together a sense of a given point in the past.  Whether it’s exploring a person (characterisation), place (setting), or event (plot), archives can both inform and inspire the creative writing process.

Educators, you can find creating writing prompts in our archive learning resources. They can be used in conjunction with current areas of study (equal rights; women’s movement; etc.)… or as a stand-alone writing exercise for those days you need a last-minute lesson.

Lastly, even if you’re not Canadian, go take a listen to Samson’s Provincial.

A personal favourite is ‘Ipetitions.Com/Petition/Rivertonrifle’ – the title is an actual online petition to get Reggie Leach inducted into Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Again, I don’t even like hockey.  If you like hockey, Canada, or simply a bunch of Canadians in toques, watch this video on the project: We, the Undersigned.

And since we’re a university archive, for the grad school students: ‘When I Write my Master’s Thesis’ (with a nod to cotton gloves in the archives).

References:
CBC ‘Manitoba artists find inspiration in the archives’
johnksamson.com

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeremy

Our volunteers have played an invaluable role in our Heritage Lottery Funded outreach project.  The time and care they give to each of their projects is amazing, and we are lucky to see their faces in our office on a weekly basis.  I wanted to share what the volunteers have been up to, but it’s far more interesting to read about their experiences first hand, than to have me ramble on.  As such, here is a guest post by Jeremy, who graciously agreed to share what he’s been up to since he joined as an Archive Volunteer back in January, as well as his thoughts on the significance of archives and of course – the National Union of Women Teachers archive collection.  Here’s Jeremy…

So what is it like volunteering at the Institute of Education?

First of all, I had wanted to do some volunteer work for a while, I needed something to put on my CV and I like the feeling of doing something useful.

I didn’t know what the Institute was or what it did. I did know it was an Educational organisation; I liked that because it suggested a certain higher level of professionalism. Later I found out that a lot of Teacher Training went on here.

But the section I had volunteered for was the “Archive”. It’s a library within a library; far beyond the stacks of books to be borrowed or just pulled off the shelves and read, this was the place where the deep documents were stored; the source material, the stuff that needed to be preserved through time.

I have a long-time love of libraries, I’m a voracious reader, I like the atmosphere, I like being surrounded by books and wherever I go I get a membership at a local branch; so I have a certain familiarity with library procedure and library culture, but this was different, this was …mystery.

Don’t you get the impression archives, any archives, not just the Institute of Education’s, are where the truth is kept, where you get the real story?

No? Just me then.

(Editor’s Note: Jeremy, we are all very much with you on this one!)

But this is neither here nor there. You want to know about volunteering at the archive.

Over the next few months I was to take on a variety of activities; the Archive puts on a number of displays and shows throughout the year, and this involves the preparation of a lot of visual and text material, so I was involved in printing, trimming, and laminating such materials, I also had a chance to visit the archives long-term climate-controlled storage (surprisingly not old and dusty at all, but bright, modern, and clean.) Most of this was to be later.

Well the first person I met was Alix, she is very easy-going and well organised and she put me to work on the project digitising materials belonging to The National Union of Women Teachers. They were big back in the thirties and best of all they left behind a ton of documentation in the form of printed publications and photographs. My job has largely been to scan the photographs.

When you see a documentary about, say the Edwardian era, you’ll get some photos, maybe some talking heads giving you an informed opinion about the time.  Scanning photographs circa 1925 to 35 (very approximately) is nothing like that.  Try this, the faces are not like our faces, they have a characteristic that is of their era, I cannot say exactly how, but they do.  Scanning so many photos gave me strong impression of the era without a lot of specifics; it was heavy on the atmosphere.

Most, but not all, of the images were of women of the Union, officers of an organisation which fought for equal pay, equal treatment, for higher quality in education, and the professionalization of their career; they were passionate about more than just themselves. In some ways they saw their cause as a patriotic one.

I learned a lot, most surprisingly some the members were also barristers and they did the Union’s legal work. I was impressed with the mettle of members who had overcome barriers in what can still be an unfriendly environment for women.

Digitising the NUWT... Voting on banners, c1930s  Document Reference: UWT/G/2/54

Digitising the NUWT…
Voting on banners, c1930s
Document Reference: UWT/G/2/54

I scanned hundreds of photos and I was impressed with the seriousness and toughness of these people; it was a different era, there was no such thing as “having it all” in that era, most of them as I was to later learn were unmarried since the laws and regulations of the time disallowed them from continuing their profession after marriage. They faced having lower wages than their male colleagues (who were assumed to be supporting families); they were often barred from educating older boys because it was assumed an unsuitable position for a woman. They were often passed over for Head Teacher positions despite their seniority. Through all of this they endured.

If there was a phase that came to mind constantly it was “no nonsense”. My education is from the seventies but I could imagine any of them as the tough old fashioned head-teachers of my time; there was something there I recognised very much.

The photographic scanning is largely finished; there still may be an envelope of two marked “fragile “, that remains to be done.

I did (as indicated) go on to other things, including proofing the scans of the Union’s newspaper “The Woman Teacher”. It was here that I got the context for the images. The organisation was not just a political talking shop (although their tireless campaigning was their main activity), it provided an emergency pension for retired members who had fallen on hard times, organised fact finding overseas tours to Canada, Italy, and the United States. It even served as a form for cultural pursuits like literature and the theatre.

Quality Checking the NUWT's journal publication, 'The Woman Teacher'

Quality Checking the NUWT’s journal publication, ‘The Woman Teacher’

They had friends in high places like Lady Astor. They tussled endlessly with successive governments both Labour and Conservative. But mostly they fought of equal pay and treatment for women in the teaching profession.

The photographs are important (OK, I scanned them, I would say that.) But what I mean is the Newspapers tell you what they did, but the photographs show you who they were; they put a human face on those lives. And I think, as you look at them you can see something of the kind of people they had to be, to do what they had to do,

And their struggle is still relevant, I just read that women’s pay has actually decline in comparison to men’s, there is still some way to go.

But As I write this, I think, the story of The National Union of Women Teachers is just one. There must be hundreds, thousands of other stories about British education in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in those cool rooms underground, just waiting to be unearthed and told. And thing is, I can’t imagine what they might be.

So, what is volunteering at the Institute of Education’s archives like?

It’s pretty cool.

Jeremy Denny

As always, a huge thanks to our volunteers like Jeremy.  And Jeremy, thanks for taking a break from all of the digitisation to write this for the blog!

We are members of Volunteer Centre Camden, and highly recommend them in terms of volunteer recruitment and best practice support… it’s a great organisation with lovely staff.

Register! Free Walking Tour – Activism in Bloomsbury

Well, apparently it is already the month of July.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it means our 13-month Heritage Lottery Fund outreach project is wrapping up at the end of the month! While we will be continuing the public engagement programme here in the Archives (more on that later), we’re really looking forward to what July has to offer, including…

A free walking tour: Activism in Bloomsbury

walkingtour

See the full poster here.

Join us for a playful, interactive stroll, as you’re guided by artist Ella Phillips.  Explore corners of Bloomsbury as you hear about the lives and histories of local activists from the past and the methods they used to promote their causes.  From  women’s suffrage, to slavery abolitionists, to personal privacy, and LGBTQ rights, no aspect of active citizenship is off-limits.

Spaces are limited, so email me at alexandra.hall@ioe.ac.uk, indicating which walk you’d like to attend on Saturday 19 July 2014 (either 11am or 2.30pm) and reserve your spot!

Reminiscence Workshop: Told & Untold Stories

This space has far too quiet lately!  We’ve been busy delivering workshops as well as preparing for several new exciting projects, including a new exhibition, upcoming walking tours, and gearing up for new community-led projects.  I’ll update more on that later, but for now, a recent reminiscence workshop we held…

We all know that archives are a necessary stop for many historical researchers and family historians, looking to gather information.

At the same time, archives (with their many stories, both familiar and unfamiliar) are also catalysts for hearing, sharing, and gathering the experiences of others. With this in mind, we held a reminiscence workshop, Told & Untold Stories: Protecting London’s Children During the Second World War, here in the IOE Archives during May.

Evacuees  Girls Day School Trust Archive Collection

Evacuees
Girls Day School Trust Archive Collection

The event, offered in conjunction with the Raphael Samuel History Centre’s month-long heritage festival, London at War, explored the experiences of London ‘s children, along with the adults working to keep them safe. We uncovered untold stories from our
archive collections, and heard from participants’ own histories, while lecturers and PhD candidates shared their research.

Discussion often revolved around the theme of evacuation: those who stayed in London and the UK, and those who went abroad. Attendee Margaret described the ‘mutual envy between the people who stayed and the people who went… My parents were a bit smug about not sending us to America or Canada’.

Reminiscence Session

Reminiscence Session

Meg, who was evacuated to America, described her time abroad as a ‘huge educational experience’, having discovered other views. Margaret echoed those sentiments, recalling a friend who returned with surprise that England was a monarchy. Mary
described her childhood in Wimbledon, and the amount of bombing she and her family experienced.

We had our own collections on display: from the bomb damage of schools and the implementation of air raid precautions found in the Girls Day School Trust
collection, to the National Union of Women Teachers and their support of teachers sent to teach evacuated children. Teachers wrote to the NUWT, frustrated at being separated from their former pupils, others wrote to express how enjoyable the experience had been. Upon returning to a crowded London school following the war, one teacher complained of the ’44 hooligans’ she had in her class.

More than anything, the NUWT and its members were concerned about the impact of war on their students.

The shadow of war has darkened our personal and professional outlook; its effect on the education of our children is one of the gravest of its menaces. Whoever made this war it was not the children, and it is our part to see that they suffer no more than can be helped from its horrors and deprivations
Ellen Hamlyn, London Unit President, NUWT
September 1940

A huge thank you to everyone who made the trip to the IOE to attend this session.  The only request from attendees was for a longer session, as everyone had so many compelling stories to share; so, we will definitely offer similar workshops in the future.  Also, a big thanks to the Girls Day School Trust alumnae network for sharing this event with their members!  While we have GDST archives in our collections, it was great to hear the experiences of GDST alum, firsthand.

These reminiscences are in the process of being made available as audio oral histories online, so keep your eyes peeled! If you know of a group that would be interested in a reminiscence workshop using the IOE archives, please send me an email at alexandra.hall@ioe.ac.uk, or call 020 7911 5483.

‘Educating Londoners’ Event at London Metropolitan Archives

On Friday 9 May, 2014, along with London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), we are holding a study day conference, Educating Londoners: Sharing Experiences in the Archives, taking place at LMA.

Join us for a day of talks, recollections and document viewing to explore the stories of Londoners and their education. LMA partners with the Archives at the University of London’s Institute of Education to inspire discussion and reflection on education in London in the 20th century. From school architecture to school yard play, teacher unionism to after school detention, school dinners to curriculum reform, this day’s timetable can cover it all.

Places can be reserved here, free of charge.

Architects & Buildings Branch Archive Collection

Architects & Buildings Branch Archive Collection

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Programme for the day

As the programme illustrates, subjects for the day will be quite varied, and we’re looking forward to hearing about attendee’s experiences with their own education, in addition to hearing from four very unique, engaging speakers…

Professor Jane Martin (University of Birmingham) is the School of Education’s Deputy Head with responsibility for Strategic Development and Head of Department of Education and Social Justice. She moved to Birmingham from the Institute of Education, University of London, where she was Head of Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has lectured in Education Studies, History, Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her publications include Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England, winner of the History of Education Society (UK) Book Prize 2002 and Making Socialists: Mary Bridges Adams and the Fight for Knowledge and Power 1855-1939 (2010). Her books with Joyce Goodman include Women and Education 1800-1980 (2004) and a 4-volume set for Routledge Women and Education: Major Themes in Education (2011). She is a past editor of the journal History of Education, past president of the UK History of Education Society and was the Brian Simon BERA Educational Research Fellow for 2004/5. She is a member of the Education Sub-panel for the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) on behalf of the UK Higher Education Funding Councils and the holder of a British Academy / Leverhulme Small Grant: Caroline DeCamp Benn: A Comprehensive Life, 1926-2000.

Professor Michael Fielding: Currently Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London and Visiting Professor of Education at the University of Bristol, Michael Fielding taught for 19 years in some of the UK’s pioneer radical secondary comprehensive schools and for a similar period and with identical commitments at the universities of Cambridge, London and Sussex.

Widely published in the fields of student voice, educational leadership and radical democratic education, his latest book, co-authored with Peter Moss, Radical Education and the Common School – a democratic alternative (Routledge 2011) seeks to reclaim education as a democratic project and a community responsibility and school as a public space of encounter for all citizens. He has recently received a grant from the Leverhulme Foundation to continue his research on the life and work of Alex Bloom, from 1945-55 headteacher of St George-in-the East, Stepney, one of the most radical democratic secondary schools England has ever seen.

Dr Hilda Kean is former dean of Ruskin College, Oxford where she taught history for many years (and campaigned to keep their student archives from destruction!) She has published widely on cultural/public history/family history and non-human animals. Hilda’s numerous books include Deeds not Words. The Lives of Suffragette Teachers (Pluto,1990), London Stories. Personal Lives, Public Histories (Rivers Oram, 2004) and The Public History Reader (Routledge, 2013) edited with Paul Martin. She is currently writing a book for the University of Chicago Press on the animal-human relationship on the Home Front during the 1939 – 45 war. Hilda has run many workshops on researching and writing family history at the London Metropolitan Archives and conducts guided walks with a London animal theme. She can be contacted via her website http://hildakean.com/

Professor Ken Jones has been Professor of Education at Goldsmiths since 2010, having previously worked in London secondary schools, at the Institute of Education, and at Keele University. As a teacher, he was secretary of the Barking & Dagenham Association of the NUT and for 8 years a member of the union’s national executive.

As an academic, the main area of his current interest is education policy, and the conflicts around it. He writes about the economic and social crisis through which Britain, and other countries in Europe, have been living since the financial crash of 2008. He analyses the education policies developed by governments in this period, and the ways in which these policies are critiqued and challenged by those who do not share current policy orthodoxies. Some of his articles are about the ideas and practices developed in the radical education of the twentieth century; others look at more recent alternatives. His two latest, edited, books are ‘Education in Europe: the politics of austerity’ (free to download at http://radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/education-in-europe.pdf) and, with Catherine Burke ‘Education, Childhood and Anarchism; talking Colin Ward’.

 

We hope to see you there!  If you’d like any further details, please contact me at alexandra.hall@ioe.ac.uk. 

Parliament, Stars and ‘Suffragette’

One of my favourite things about the NUWT collection is the range of causes members were involved in throughout the first half of the twentieth century.  Obviously the issue of equal pay for women teachers was the driving force of their campaigning, but that didn’t stop them from becoming involved in a range of causes – including the interwar peace movement; the education of girls; the impact of cinema on children; the nationality of married women issue; and women’s suffrage.

If you’re interested in any of the issues that pop up in our NUWT archive or this blog, you’ll probably also be keen to see the new film, currently titled ‘Suffragette’, currently shooting in London.  While filming has primarily been taking place in East London, the film is also set to shoot in the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.  The fact that this is the first commercial film to be given filming prvileges in Parliament says a great deal about the value of sharing this very significant period in history (I cannot even imagine the bad press for Westminster if they had said no to filming scenes for ‘Suffragette’).  The film stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep as suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst (see photos of Streep in costume as Pankhurst here).

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NUWT members laying a wreath at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst outside the Houses of Parliament c1932.  Doc Ref: UWT/G/2/39

While we don’t necessarily need a star studded film to appreciate the women’s suffrage movement, it is nice to see it being recognised. Also, in the often male dominated film industry, it is pretty great to see such a talented female cast under the direction of Sarah Gavron.

*Also, a huge thanks to our volunteer, Jeremy, for making documents – like the photograph seen above – more accessible.  As part of our HLF project, Jeremy, who has been with us since January, spends Monday afternoons on an NUWT digitisation project.  He scans and organises the NUWT archive collection’s photographs (such as the one above) so that they are preserved and accessible for archive readers, regardless of geographical proximity to the IOE.  Thanks again, Jeremy!*

History Reporters Workshop: the interwar peace movement

With the 2014 First World War Centenary, heritage organisations around the world are delivering exhibitions, programmes and lectures, recognising the 100 years since the outbreak of war.  As the IOE’s archives are predominantly twentieth century, many collections reflect the impact of war on education, children and teachers in the UK and Europe.

The National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) collection spans 1904 to the early 1960s, with documents reflecting both World Wars, pre & post war England, and the interwar period. It’s within that interwar period that the NUWT collection holds a wealth of material relating to the peace movements which emerged in the wake of the First World War.

Back in January, we delivered workshops on this interwar peace movement to Year 6 classes in Islington. The pupils previously learned about the World Wars, life in Britain in the 1930s, and had recently discussed bias in the news and other sources.  Their teachers were also keen for students to hone their skills of historiography and accurate research. So, we combined archives and the peace movement, with the skills and responsibilities of both historians and reporters, for a few Friday afternoon workshops.

Here is a sampling of what we got up to…

UWT/D/18/38

A pamphlet, created by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), addresses the potential dangers of Air Raid Precautions.  c1930.  Document Reference: UWT/D/18/38

When students first saw the cover of the above Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) pamphlet for Educators and Mothers, a few pupils commented on how funny the children looked with their gas masks on.  Students then read the following passage from the booklet…

… in every factory, office and school were people are together, they must be trained to expect war…What are we doing to the minds of a whole generation of children if we surround them with these ever-present… proofs of our expectation of war?

Students were amazing at distinguishing different biases… they acknowledged that WILPF wasn’t a 100% impartial source (citing how irresponsible it would be to not be at all prepared for a future war… as one student commented, ‘peace is great – but we can’t just always hope it’ll all be okay!’), while still being critical of government air raid precautions (‘Is a gas mask REALLY gonna save you if your home is bombed?!‘ questioned one student).

reeeead

A student takes a read through WILPF’s pamphlet.

After investigating the document, some had a new perspective on the cover image.  One pupil commented, ‘those kids don’t even look like kids…’

We then looked at the peace movement through a specific event – a disarmament demonstration at Royal Albert Hall on 11 July 1931. Students explored the organisations involved in the peace movement, including the NUWT, The League of Nations and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF); debated the reliability of sources and potential biases; and did primary source investigations with leaflets, postcards, memos, letters and petitions.

Document Reference UWT/D/20/85

WILPF Leaflet, Document Reference UWT/D/20/85

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Year 6 students work in groups to complete a Primary Source Investigation, analysing a document from the archives.  Here, students investigate a letter addressed to the NUWT, from the League of Nations, asking for their support in educating the public in the peace cause.

Finally, the Year 6s put on their reporter hats and were asked to imagine it’s July, 1931… as junior reporters for The Guardian, their Editor-in-Chief handed them an assignment: write an article to inform readers about an upcoming disarmament demonstration taking place on July 11th.  In groups, they got to work investigating their documents for the who, what, where, when, why and how, and then shared their findings with the class.

When I asked students what they know about the World Wars, hands immediately shot in the air.  The Year 6s had thorough prior knowledge: they knew the causes, trench warfare, munitions production, Winston Churchill, Hitler, the Holocaust. Their responses also reinforced how history curriculum (and history in general) favours the grand narratives of the past: the major events, battles and historical figures. While these histories certainly have their place, there’s something to be said for investigating multiple perspectives – and experiences – when it comes to the past.  Throughout the History Reporters workshops, students were still indirectly learning about the world wars and political and social climate of the time, but were doing so through a perspective of a group of individuals – in this case, predominantly women – whose stories and experiences are perhaps less often shared.

A big thank you to teachers, Anna and Bea, and the Year 6s, for having us into your classrooms (on Friday afternoons, nonetheless)!

~~~~~~~~~~~

Teachers: below you will find an interdisclipinary lesson plan based on the History Reporters workshop.  The resource pack includes National Curriculum core standards; lesson details; archive documents and worksheets.
History Reporters Lesson Plan Key Stage 2-3

Students take a hands-on approach to source-based historical research as they investigate the interwar peace movement.  Topics include bias; how to decide whether a source is reliable or not; and recognising the similarities between the responsibilities of a historian and news reporter.  Students take on the role of journalists as they investigate archives as research for a newspaper article.