Christmas in the Archives

It’s three days before Christmas, and the university is fairly quiet at the moment; so, I felt the most practical use of time would be to peek around the archives for some holiday related documents…

When I searched the term ‘Christmas’ in the archive catalogue, 133 unique files popped up: from Christmas cards, to school pageants, and holiday programmes, the festive season has always played a fairly big role in education and schools.  Here is one such example…

Arthur Sporne Archive Collection: Christmas Letters

Some of the most compelling aspects of our collection are those documents which reveal student voice.  The Arthur Sporne archive collection includes essays and letters written by pupils to their teacher, Sporne.  ‘Story of My Life’ essays written by 14 year olds in July 1914 give insight into the lives and hobbies of children on the brink of the First World War; whereas similar essays from pupils in 1952 illustrate childhoods defined by the Second World War.

Today I wanted to share a letter from 1917.  Sporne had recently taken up a teaching position at Fulham Reformatory School, and pupils wrote letters to him, discussing the end of the school term, the Christmas holidays, and plans for the following term.


End of term letter written by Albert Day to Arthur Sporne (December 18, 1917). Document Reference: IOE Archives, SP/4

Common themes include thanks for Sporne’s genuine interest in the student’s academics, his love of sports, and nearly half of the letters mention the probable absence of Christmas pudding given the food shortages of the First World War.  In addition to Albert’s letter, another pupil echoed similar sentiments, ‘we wont be able to make a very big christmas pudding this year because currants and raisins are so dear…’

If you’d like more Christmas in the archives, head to our catalogue.  And in the meantime, we hope you all enjoy the holiday season!

The IOE closes Tuesday, December 23rd at 4.30pm, and reopens Monday, January 5th, 2015. The Archive Reading Room reopens Monday, January 12th (after a week of stock-taking).


How do we teach the First World War in Schools?

‘Whatever else war is, it is always horrific’

– Richard Aldridge in ‘IMPACT 21: How ought war to be remembered in schools?’

Last month, IMPACT (an initiative of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain) organised a seminar led by David Aldridge, lecturer at Oxford Brookes. Held at the Institute of Education, Aldridge and his co-panellists discussed: ‘How Ought War to be Remembered in Schools?’

History teachers aren’t faced with the easiest of tasks; it’s already a challenge to engender a memory of events that students (and often teachers, themselves) didn’t experience first-hand. Teaching the First World War, a war often seen as morally neutral, can be doubly tricky. In history lessons, there are aspects that are black and white: Asquith was Prime Minister in office at the outbreak of war; the Battle of Liege began on the 5th of August, 1914; the war was primarily fought in trenches. But it’s the grey areas that also need addressing whenever we teach, talk, or even think about the past. Aldridge pointed out that, as educators, whenever there’s reasonable disagreeance on an issue, we need to teach that variance.

Aldridge argues that the horrors of war need to be communicated for students: images and narratives of soldiers – including children and young adults – killed or wounded. He advises educational institutions to ‘consider whether the rituals and practices they engage in around remembrance successfully communicate the horror of war’ (Aldridge, 2014: 6).

Aldridge’s fellow panellists also shared their thoughts. Jerome Freeman, Director of the First World War Centenary Battlefields Programme (run by the Institute of Education and Equity), emphasised the importance of going beyond the horror to encourage students to really discover the First World War. While schools often opt to teach the Second World War over the First, the FWW has been largely undertaught. The Battlefields Programme enables two students and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England to visit battlefields on the Western Front between 2014 and 2019. Students are encouraged to research their own family connections to the war, but the tours are important historically, not just emotionally. Freeman emphasised the significance of discovering the political and social consequences of war, while also engaging with historiography – was it a just war? What were the consequences? The tours are built around these key questions, while also probing the issue of remembrance. Who, what, why and how do we remember?

In the IOE Archive workshops we deliver in local primary schools, we use archives to tell the stories of ‘ordinary’ individuals during the war. How did the Great War impact men, women, children? These details range from photographs of children setting up gardens to address food shortages on the home front, to letters describing life in the trenches, to applications made to tribunals for exemption from military service. Working primarily with primary schools, we ensure the horrors are not overplayed; rather, children develop a sense of how nearly every aspect of life was impacted by the war in some way.

Pupils tend to a school garden. Image via Imperial War Museum via

Pupils tend to a school garden.  Allotment-style gardens were developed in available areas of land during the Great War – including school playing fields.
Image via Imperial War Museum via

However, that doesn’t mean skirting around the terrors and tragedies of the war, including the realities of Britain’s own role. We worked with a Year 5 class in Camden who were busy learning about conscientious objectors. Through the archives and classroom discussions, students were fully aware of the harsh consequences faced by COs. Moreover, as pupils carefully considered why pacifists objected to serving brought to the fore the daily realities of war: the very fact that, as Aldridge pointed out, ‘war is killing, not just dying’.

A Year 6 student commented that he had recently read Private Peaceful, a Michael Morpurgo novel (spoilers ahead). In the novel, a young soldier, Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful, reflects on his life in the trenches of the First World War. It’s revealed that Tommo is to be executed by firing squad in the morning for cowardice, and serves as an honest examination of soldiers killed on the grounds of cowardice or desertion. The student simply, and thoughtfully, remarked: ‘I couldn’t believe stuff like that happened by our own army… wasn’t there enough killing?’

As with teaching of any sort, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. But we also have the knowledge that history too often repeats itself.  One of the best things we can do as educators is to ensure students have a multi-faceted understanding of the range of issues and perspectives which surround any historical event, particularly when it comes to conflicts and peace-keeping.  Aldridge suggests it’s imperative that we remember the horrors of war, ‘so that we continue to make every effort to avoid or at least condemn unnecessary conflict in the future’ (Aldridge, 2014: 5).

Relevant Educator Resources:

The Interwar Peace Movement: lesson plan from the IOE Archives
While our archive collections don’t contain a great deal on the graphic horrors of war, the National Union of Women Teachers collection contains papers, leaflets and correspondence relating to the post-war peace movement and their support of/for conscientious objectors.

Learn Peace: An education project by the Peace Pledge Union

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’ ( 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).

CBC ‘Manitoba artists find inspiration in the archives’

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


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, indicating which walk you’d like to attend on Saturday 19 July 2014 (either 11am or 2.30pm) and reserve your spot!

‘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


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

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 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 

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…


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).


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


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.

Upcoming Adult Learning Events

If you happened to have stumbled upon this page, I highly suspect you have an interest in either women’s history, archives, education, activism, or perhaps all of the above.

If this is the case (… I sincerely hope this is the case, or you’ll likely find this site pretty disappointing…), this is just a quick post to direct you toward our events page, as we have several workshops and open days on offer in the next couple of months.

While we are still offering school workshops, we’re also focusing on adult learning opportunities… so take a look, and see if there’s anything of interest.  We’re looking forward to engaging with new audiences, so we hope to see some of your faces!

Events include…