‘Compressing and rendering’: using biography to teach big stories

Teaching History article

By Rachel Foster, published 19th April 2023

In principle, Rachel Foster had long been aware of the value of creating an interplay between depth and overview across the history curriculum. But in practice, as she acknowledges here, she had tended to shy away from telling outline stories that encompassed a big chronological or geographical range. Recognising the potential of new approaches to biographical history – telling the story, not of an individual, but of a family or a particular object over time – Foster spotted the potential of the story of Saint Foy, spanning nearly a millennium from her childhood and martyrdom in early fourth-century Roman Gaul to the apogee of her cult in the twelfth century. In this article Foster explains how she developed an enquiry around Saint Foy’s story that would serve to illuminate for Year 7 all the most significant developments of the early medieval church, equipping the students with a richly contextualised understanding of the concepts that are central to making sense of those developments...

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