Using 1980s popular music to explore historical significance

Teaching History article

By Scott Allsop, published 25th March 2010

‘We didn't start the fire': using 1980s popular music to explore historical significance by stealth

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

Scott Allsop helped his students to uncover the implicit criteria informing someone else's attribution of historical significance to past events. That ‘someone else' was Billy Joel whose 1989 song became the focus for deconstructive analysis. Through a series of activities Allsop helped his students to identify the criteria that Billy Joel seems to have been operating with. The students then experimented with applying those criteria by creating an updated version of the same song. Allsop emphasises that the most important part of the sequence was the necessarily slow but engaging process by which students discerned, refined and discussed Billy Joel's apparent criteria.

Through this, the students deepened their understanding of how individual perceptions of historical significance can manifest themselves. Meanwhile, Allsop himself deepened his own understanding of the ways in which cultural and national considerations shaped his students' reflections on historical significance in the contrasting settings of Egypt and England.

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