Were industrial towns 'death-traps'? Year 9 learn to question generalisations and to challenge their preconceptions about the 'boring' 19th century

Teaching History article

By Kimberley Anthony, published 13th September 2009

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

Kimberley Anthony and her history colleagues were troubled by Year 9's assumption that World War II was the only interesting thing that they were going to do in Year 9. Nineteenth-century industrialisation, even their own South Wales heritage on their doorstep, had always been greeted by pupils with groans. Refusing to give in to pupil pressure to spend the year on Hitler, they decided to show pupils just how interesting the nineteenth century is. They chose to do this by presenting it as an historical problem concerning diversity. They started with a typical, sloppy generalisation about industrial towns, and asked, how far was this true? Inevitably, pupils soon found themselves asking ‘true for whom?', ‘in what way? and ‘to what extent?' Thus the complex, variegated world of industrial towns was gradually brought into focus and pupils were forced to replace their simplistic, black and white views of nineteenth century people's lives. When attempting to analyse the diversity of experience, pupils gradually learned to make more thoughtful claims concerning type and extent of similarity or difference that could be said to characterise the human landscape of a nineteenth century Welsh industrial town. Elements of evidential work and reflection on subsequent interpretations were also incorporated. Finally, Anthony explores a way of securing a relationship between historical thinking and wider, whole-school, generic thinking and learning initiatives.

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