Teaching History in 100 objects

19 January 2015

Sarah Longair was an education manager at the British Museum and shares here some of the ideas behind the Teaching History in 100 objects project.

Akan drum © The Trustees of the British MuseumThe final objects are being uploaded this month for the Teaching History with 100 Objects project created by the British Museum and supported by the Department for Education. This represents the end of nearly two years of work. Although responding to the themes and periods of the National Curriculum for England and Wales, the resources are designed to provide a wealth of classroom teaching ideas which can be used by teachers worldwide. Half of the objects come from museums across the UK and therefore the project also celebrates the richness of these collections.

Over the lifetime of the project, the specifications of the curriculum have changed. The original concept was devised in response to the first iteration of the new curriculum in 2012, a version which was known for its concentration on the history of the British Isles with several world history topics omitted. In these early stages, the Schools Team’s intention was to use objects from across the globe to demonstrate how Britain’s history needs to be understood through its connections with the wider world. The revised version of the curriculum, released in July 2013 after consultation with historians and teachers, broadened the scope. It was remarkable, in fact, how well the topics mapped onto the British Museum collections. It seemed to us that an object-led approach, particularly for those topics new to teachers, such as the Prehistoric era in Britain, would offer accessible routes for teaching the new content.

Russian revolutionary plate © The Trustees of the British MuseumThe model uses a single object as the gateway to a historical period or theme. At Key Stages 1 and 2, there might be several objects around a particular culture or topic. At Key Stage 3, a wider range of topics has been addressed with single objects as the starting point. Each resource has background to the historical context for teachers and light-touch teaching ideas as well as links to other objects and classroom-quality images. One section, known as ‘A Bigger Picture’ provides comparison, context or chronology for the object so that teachers and pupils can see how this particular object fits with others of its type, within its period or region, or how it is relevant to a historical issue the object introduces.

The Maya maize god © The Trustees of the British MuseumOur focus has been to provide easily-navigable resources from which teachers can select elements or teach a full topic. New research in museums and the academic community in global history and the teaching of material culture has also informed the approach, championing the idea that objects, when interrogated thoroughly and imaginatively, are critical to any historical study providing students with tangible links to past events. Furthermore these investigations equip students with analytical and research skills so vital in all their studies at school and beyond.

Have you used the Teaching History in 100 objects website? It would be great to hear about how teachers are using objects like this in the classroom. Please share your experiences via the comments section below or by email to learning@britishmuseum.org.

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