Making connections between the past and the present

Another powerful asset of the internet in particular is the facility with which the past can be connected to the present. There is an abundance of materials which provide links between current day problems and issues, and the historical perspectives on them which are the substance of history teaching. There are still pupils who think that history is boring, useless, and of no relevance to their lives (see, for instance, Aldrich, 1994; Adey, 2000). One of the key challenges to history teachers is ‘how to demonstrate the relevance of history to the present in a sufficiently convincing manner to gain the interest of the pupils.' (Burston and Green, 1962:9). Using the resources of the internet to link the past to the present can be a way of persuading pupils that history is vital and relevant to their lives, and escaping from which Ball (1993) terms ‘the curriculum of the dead.' If we tell them that ‘How democratic was Victorian Britain?' is a ‘key' question, shouldn't this link into some consideration of how democratic Britain is today? If pupils are going to be taught to analyse Tudor portraits, shouldn't we also give them some contemporary images to think about? The scanner can be an invaluable tool for presenting images of individuals from the present as well as the past. As well as helping us to persuade pupils that history is important, as well as interesting, making links with the present can also be a way of developing pupils' conceptual understanding of many of the ideas which they encounter in history:

‘Learning about the concept of kingship (or whatever) frequently involves two sets of simultaneous learning: learning about power and its distribution in modern society. The former cannot be given real meaning until pupils have some more contemporary knowledge against which to calibrate their historical understandings.' (Husbands, 1996: 34)

Helping trainee history teachers to make effective use of television programmes, the internet, and the scanner can be an important part of developing their pedagogical subject knowledge (How can I teach this topic in a way that makes sense to these pupils?) Most history teachers regularly use video extracts as ‘components' of their lessons (Sharp, 1995); the internet, the scanner and newspapers also offer a wide range of opportunities for adding to the impact, challenge and interest of lessons. The recent online arching of broadsheet newspapers has provided access to a range of articles which trace the antecedents of current problems, issues and crises, polemics which interpret them in different ways, and reviews of the most recently published history books. Such resources can play a big part in persuading pupils that history is vital, relevant and important to their lives. Sites such as The Paperboy, the gateway site to newspapers worldwide, or the ‘Archive' section of newspapers such as The Guardian provide the opportunity to access a wide range of articles which link the present to the past, on topics such as race, slavery, opposition, British identity, the census, the changing role of the monarchy, immigration, religion and economic change.

For a list of examples, see:

Dr. Haydn asserted that much material found on the internet consists of interpretations of history, consciously reflecting on the past in particular ways. Equipping pupils with the tools to question and challenge interpretations, as well as original sources, is an important component of school history. Dr. Haydn used the following quotations to support his case:

"History helps pupils to use their reason as well as their memories, and to develop skills of analysis and criticism in a situation where there cannot be a provably right answer."
Sir Keith Joseph writing in The Historian, Spring 1984

"The reason for teaching history is not that it changes society but that it changes pupils: it changes what they see in the world and how they see it."
Peter Lee, The Aims of School History, The National Curriculum & Beyond
Tufnell Press 1992

"Educating our children to sort out the differences between essential and non-essential information; raw fact, prejudice, half-truth and untruth, so that they know when they are being manipulated by whom and for what purpose."
Norman Longworth, We're moving into the information society - what shall we teach the children? Computer Education, 1981

"History ‘helps pupils to understand that there is a range of questions - on which there is no single right answer - where opinions have to be tolerated but need to be subjected to the test of evidence and argument."
Sir Keith Joseph, as above

Another important function of ICT in the history classroom was to act as a powerful medium for the teaching of history itself. Dr. Haydn mentioned that in recent research only 4% of pupils saw the point in studying the subject at all and that, at times, pupils actually remembered less about the content at the end of a sequence of learning than they did at the beginning. Teachers of history need to select material to use through the medium of ICT that leaves a lasting impact; material that forms what Ben Walsh describes as ‘a powerful learning package'. The teachers' skill in selecting and blending series of powerful clips and images together is more important than advanced knowledge of the technology itself.


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Children who aren't scholarly, and are not driven by a desire for knowledge are, nevertheless, bidable to learning. Every lesson should have at least one thing, or ‘Golden Nugget' which engages their attention. New technology can give us weapons to fight boredom:


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The teacher acts as the mediator of raw material. For example, Dr. Haydn's own research had shown that pupils generally find school programmes dull. It is better to build up a collection of short, powerful video clips and images that can be displayed at the teacher's discretion. He suggested collecting newspaper front pages from appropriate websites and putting pictures into powerpoint. Dr. Haydn displayed a series of images of Queen Elizabeth II dating from her coronation to the present day. He then gave out copies of the images as a card sort to be arranged into chronological order. This was the kind of activity that pupils were more likely to remember. Dr. Haydn also gave out the following extract from the commentary of a documentary film about Elgar:

Elgar's feelings about one of his best tunes

In 1914, the tensions were released and the song which Elgar had written in his popular, exuberant moods in 1901, at the time of the Boer War, became a rallying call to the nation. Elgar was delighted. "I look on the composer's job, he once said, as the old troubadours did. In those days it was no disgrace for a man to be turned on to step in front of an army and inspire them with a song. For me part, I know that there are a lot of people who like to celebrate events with music. To those people, I have given tunes. "A tune like this only comes once in a lifetime," he once said. He was proud of his marches. The words however were not his, and he disapproved of them; they were too jingoistic and there was to come a time when he could no longer bear what had virtually become a second national anthem. There was a terrible irony in having written a march in the dashing, glinting days of 1900, used as a battle hymn against a nation he loved so much, used almost as an accompaniment to the growing horror of World War 1. As the gates of Armageddon opened in France, Elgar, too old to serve, left London for Sussex, and turned to chamber music, to sonatas and quintets. Nothing however could sever the public's association with Elgar with his Boer War marching song. The irony, to a man who had sensed the disaster to come, and felt its impact, was abominable.


Terry played a video clip which accompanied the commentary. The clip moving set Elgar's pomp and circumstances music, Land of Hope and Glory, to a sequence of black-and-white film clips showing trench warfare during World War 1. This had been skilfully edited so that as the music reached a patriotic crescendo, shells exploded in the earth, scattering soil across the landscape. Dr. Haydn posed the rhetorical question: ‘Was the commentary more memorable with or without the visuals?'

Dr. Terry Haydn likened the wealth of ICT based materials, that teachers could use to a collection of cookery books. How many recipes do we really use? The skill of the teacher lies in selecting the best material for use. He demonstrated how an historic painting , Claude-Joseph Vernet's The Shipwreck, could be incorporated into powerpoint and divided up into boxes using a zoom effect. Parts of the image could be blown up so that details of the painting can be analysed in more detail.


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Dr. Haydn also made the following suggestions:

  • The teacher can select datafiles for pupils to organise in different ways, for example - the dates and cause of death of Roman emperors or English kings, census data.
  • The teacher can set up web trails, providing pupils with lists of website links to differing interpretations of the same event.
  • Pupils can be given the task of creating a powerpoint presentation summarizing the history of Britain in just seven slides. This focuses pupil reflection on what to put it, what to leave out, and the reasons for such decisions.


He stressed the importance of ICT in the history classroom as a powerful motivational tool for the analysis of historical interpretations; a way of bringing the past up to date with the present, and as a means of extending pupil's political literacy.

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