Curriculum Leadership

1. Subject knowledge and understanding

Having your own map of the past

No one knows all the history there is to know but all history specialists should have an outline map: the ability to relate one period or culture to another in time and place. They should be able to pick out the landmarks that will allow other travellers to find their way around and know what degree of detail is required for the map to make sense.

top of this page

Knowing where you are in the past

This means the ability to distinguish one period or culture from another. In the first instance this means the 'look' of the culture - artefacts, buildings and so on - but it also means key cultural features such as religious beliefs, structures of rule, technological achievements and so on. In previous modules we have identified the different levels at which it is possible to study the past and related these to 'what, how and why' questions. The curriculum leader needs to be able to show how this approach relates to a particular society and give colleagues practice in its use.

top of this page

Spotting similarities and parallels

Even when we're dealing with cultures very different from our own we draw on our own experience to understand them. Bringing the past to life for children means knowing what they know already and finding aspects of the past that are clearly similar. OK, the Romans did not play football but their spectator sports were equally exciting and much more dangerous: we know that crowds in the Colosseum experienced very similar emotions to those at Wembley Stadium.

If children find nothing in the behaviour of people in the past that they can recognise they are unlikely to take the past itself seriously.

top of this page

Having ideas of your own about what makes people 'tick'

This takes us into dangerous areas like anthropology and psychology but it's often impossible to answer 'why' questions unless you know something about human nature and the answers won't be half so interesting to children whose real interest in history relates not to the past but to the present and the future. Hedge your bets certainly and show how the evidence almost always allows for more than one interpretation but be prepared to talk frankly about the 'seven deadly sins' - forces which shaped actions in the past just as they do today.

top of this page

Knowing what makes a difference

Could I converse with a Roman or an inhabitant of Bronze Age Britain? It wouldn't just be a matter of learning the language, we would see the world in a different way. We should value different things and we should underpin these values with beliefs that are closely related to the circumstances in which we were used to living our lives. Knowing what those circumstances are and the effects they are likely to have helps us to ask the right questions about a society and is especially useful when it comes to explaining the different forms of religion.

top of this page

Knowing the kind of evidence that is relevant

In Module ESHI 304 ('History Around Us') we discussed the need for a three dimensional view of the past. To get such a view means use all the different kinds of evidence on which our view of the past is based - artefacts, buildings, documents, oral testimony and so on. Of particular importance are those kinds of document which allow us to see and experience the past as those who lived in it saw and experienced it, despite the obscuring effects of translation and the cultural barriers referred to above (the companion booklet to this one, entitled 'In Their Own Words', provides examples of such documents).

top of this page

Turning history into a story without making it into a fable

Every teacher knows the value of a good story. Bringing the past alive means seeing it in your own 'minds-eye', spotting the detail that tells all and making the characters 'live'. On the other hand we mustn't distort the truth to make the narrative more exciting. To do so sets up the same contradiction between exciting fantasy and dull fact which is currently undermining both politics and journalism. If we abbreviate in the interests of drama or employ filmed reconstructions of historical events we must make the separation of fact and fiction part of the exercise.

top of this page

Keeping up to date

History, no less than other academic disciplines, is constantly changing. Not only are new conclusions being reached but new forms of evidence are becoming available especially in the area of prehistory. The amount of research going on all over the world is increasing all the time whilst the internet and the television make its results more instantly available to a wider audience than ever before. The history specialist cannot hope to keep up with everything but he or she needs a historian's instinct to distinguish what is significant and soundly-based from what is merely speculative or entertaining.

top of this page

Spotting links with other curriculum areas

The close relationship between history and English is well known (Hoodless et al) but, as we have seen, history is becoming increasingly dependent upon other related sciences. Their modes of enquiry and expression (for example, the collection of statistics) suggest ways in which history can be taught across the whole curriculum.

top of this page