Using family history to provoke rigorous enquiry

Teaching History article

By Paul Barrett, published 3rd January 2012

‘My grandfather slammed the door in Winston Churchill's face!'

The idea of using ‘little stories' to illuminate the ‘big pictures' of the past was creatively explored in Teaching History 107, which offered teachers a wealth of detailed vignettes with which to kindle young people's interest and illuminate major historical events. Paul Barrett builds on the ideas explored in that issue in two important ways. The first is to locate the little stories that are studied within children's own families, encouraging his students to explore records and share the war-time experiences of their relatives. The annual event which his school hosts for the grandparents of Year 7 students offers an inspirational example of the curiosity and enthusiasm generated by personal history. Barrett's second contribution, carefully developed through the sequence of lessons that he outlines here, is to make such personal stories an integral part of a rigorous historical enquiry, thereby expanding students' conceptions of historical diversity and alerting them to the  cotingent nature of historical significance...

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