Inventing race? Using primary sources to investigate the origins of racial thinking in the past

Teaching History article

By Kerry Apps, published 15th July 2021

Year 8 use early modern primary sources to investigate the complex origins of racial thinking in the past

Having been given some additional curriculum time, Kerry Apps and her department made decisions about what had been missing in the previous curriculum diet. Building on an existing enquiry (in TH 176), Apps decided to focus on how and when the idea of race in its modern sense developed in early modern Britain and the British Atlantic. This article sets out how she planned and taught the sensitive and highly nuanced topic of the invention of race. Apps explains how she enabled her Year 8 students to use primary source material to begin to build their own understanding about how race, as a term, came to be used.

In 2018 I moved schools and stepped up to the role of head of history. With this role, I had an opportunity to consider the curriculum as a whole and the scale and scope of history taught. An area into which I was interested in breathing new life was the teaching of the early modern period, a particular interest of mine. Bolstered by a ‘Teaching Black Tudors Day’, a development day led by Jason Todd and Miranda Kaufmann, and by Kaufmann’s research into African presence in Tudor England, I decided to develop an enquiry that would place Tudor and Stuart England within a global context. This enquiry became a labour of love, blending the work of a range of historians and my own undergraduate study of the early modern period and the Atlantic world. It developed into a causation enquiry investigating the factors leading to England's expansion and her growing connections with the wider worlds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Using a similar approach to that used by Dennis and by Lyndon, I chose to illustrate wider themes by weaving into the enquiry some people who had come to London having originated from cultures outside the British Isles...

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