Historical Memories…

Oral Historian Tracy Craggs has been working in partnership with the Royal Armouries Museum to complete a two-year European Union-funded project, contributing towards a methodology on teaching historical memory in schools. Tracy tells us more about the project.

The Royal Armouries’ team worked with a class of Year Nine History students (aged 13-14) for one term. The students were from the Co-operative Academy of Leeds, a mixed-ability comprehensive school near the city centre. The students studied the Second World War, focusing on the history and memories of D-Day.

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Students interview D Day veteran, Alf Ackroyd

Students learnt about the background to the Second World War, then spent a lesson focusing on D-Day from the perspective of one man, Wilf Todd, who took part in the invasion on Sword beach in Normandy. Using photographs, historical documents relating to Wilf’s service, a letter he wrote to his wife Mary, and extracts from Wilf’s and Mary’s memoirs, students analysed the difference between history and memory sources.

They then used a wide range of eyewitness accounts of D-Day, together with photographs, films and archive sources, to broaden their understanding and assess why the invasion of Normandy was ultimately a success. The class spent a day at the Royal Armouries Museum, where they worked in the museum galleries and handled Second World War weapons and uniforms.

After interview skills training, students met and interviewed D-Day and Second World War veterans in school. Using their interview results, students created digital stories based on the interviewees’ experiences, interpreting their stories in the context of the Second World War and giving their own views on the relationship between ‘official’ history and memory sources.

The Royal Armouries team found that students had a far more mature response to the museum’s collection, particularly difficult objects such as Second World War weapons, when they understood the memories those objects held for people who used them. Meeting living witnesses was an important part of the learning process for young people. However, oral history was more powerful for the students when they had the opportunity to question and compare different narratives rather than seeing it as a piece of evidence telling them ‘what really happened’. Getting young people to deconstruct how interpretations are made, and how social memory is created, made them appreciate the relevance of history to their own lives.

Our team worked with staff from museums and cultural organisations from Spain, Norway, Italy, Slovenia and Poland to create a methodology to teach historical memory that would work in schools across Europe. This methodology has now been made available and interested teachers can access it at http://memoriesatschool.aranzadi-zientziak.org/methodology/

Blogger: Tracy Craggs, Oral Historian