What’s in a narrative? Unpicking Year 9 narratives of change in Stalin’s Russia

Teaching History article

By James Ellis, published 27th March 2020

Is it structure or the selection of knowledge that makes writing historical narrative so difficult? Where does a conceptual focus on change, or causation, come in? James Ellis set out to explore the challenges his Year 9 pupils faced in writing historical narratives about change. Inspired by the work of Orlando Figes, he put together a scheme of work interweaving a macro-narrative with micro-narratives of individuals in Stalin’s Russia, and using Figes’s own text as a model of narrative writing. Ellis unpicks here the outcomes his pupils produced, and what their responses reveal about the challenges of structure, selection and argument inherent in constructing a coherent historical narrative.

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