Helping Year 8 to understand historians’ narrative decision-making

Teaching History article

By Jen Turner and Arthur Chapman, published 19th April 2023

‘It does duty for any amount of mayhem’

While previous work on historical interpretations has focused students’ attention on the particular questions that historians have been asking or the context in which they have been posing those questions, less attention has been paid to the process of historical narration itself – the decisions that are made in telling a story about the past. The publication of two graphic novels marking the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre inspired Jen Turner and Arthur Chapman to devise a Year 8 scheme of work focused on three kinds of decision related to story-telling: questions of perspective, of focus, and of scene and summary. These questions were made meaningful through the analogy of a camera. In each case students were encouraged to consider not just the positive decisions about what should be included and from whose perspective, but also the negative implications in terms of what was left out. Use of the analogy in relation to the visual material made analysis of these narrative decisions highly accessible, convincing Turner and Chapman of its potential in relation to young people’s analysis of other stories that are told about the past...

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