Using this map and all your knowledge, become Bismarck


By Anna Hamilton, Tony McConnell, published 31st August 2003

Understanding the past is not an abstract exercise. Historical questions revolve around decisions made by real people under real pressure. As historians, we factor psychological pressure into our analysis. How, though, are we to enable our students to do the same? To study why Bismarck began a programme of overseas colonisation, Anna Hamilton and Tony McConnell propose an empathy exercise in which Year 13 students are subjected to the kinds of pressures Bismarck might have felt. They become Bismarck and, ultimately, they have to make a decision. The exercise worked because it is structured empathy; with just the right amount of information, their students were speculating from a position of strength. It avoided the trap of bad empathy, when students resort to making things up. Of equal importance in the context of this edition, Hamilton and McConnell have given careful thought to what their students already know about empire. Indeed, the enquiry detailed in this article is the last in a whole series that crops up from Year 7 onwards. (To understand these sixth form students’ prior knowledge, see this edition’s Cunning Plan on pages 20-21. There you will find an overview of those enquiries that relate to empire in the school’s history department’s scheme of work.)

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