We have just returned from attending the 30th SHP teachers conference in Leeds this year. We were feeling a bit frayed around the edges having been working away from home for the best part of the last month. If I’m honest, having been a little unwell recently in Cumbria, I just wanted my own bed and own things around me but we were extremely pleased we made the effort to attend as we have returned enthused and rejuvenated from the inspiring environment it provides.
We met some old friends, such as Anglia Tours, who I spoke about in last years blog and Ian Dawson, former Director of the SHP who so kindly let us attend that first year back in 2005. We also made some new friends too. We spoke to lots of teachers and attended various lectures. It was great to find out that others had similar experiences whilst teaching and to find new ideas of how to teach.
I can only really speak of my own experience at one of the lectures which was run by Mary Brown, History teacher and Sacha Cinnamond, Vice Principal of St Josephs College in Ipswich whose workshop was entitled ‘The dead were once as real as we’ using contemporary culture to bring the dead to life in the history classroom! The title had intrigued me as it’s very much connected to what I try to do within my own work, in bringing life to old bones and helping students understand that the people we are talking of were once warm, breathing, thinking people like them. It put me in mind of a tomb I had just seen that week in Wetheral Cumbria. The arch over the tomb had once read:
‘Here lies Sir Richard Salkeld, that knight,
who in his land was mickle might,
the captain and keeper of Carlisle was he,
and also the Lord of Cozkebye,
and now he lies under this stane,
he and his lady Dame Jane,
The Eighteenth day of Februere,
this gentle knight was buried here.
I pray you all that this do see,
pray for their souls for charitie,
For as they are now – so must we all be.’
This seems to be a popular theme in medieval stories and put me in mind of the story of 3 dead kings. Reading these lines whilst standing next to their effigies, made me feel quite a profound connection to them. Even as someone who is uncertain of life after death, I found myself praying for their souls, because, it was what they had believed and wanted. Sir Richard had died in 1500 but reading this contemporary poem had bought me a little closer to him. This in essence is what the workshop was about. It is easy to forget sometimes that children don’t have the years of life experience we all have and they can struggle to relate to people that died a long time ago. There is a widely held belief that people in the past were stupid as they don’t know what we know and we have always rallied over the years to change this way of thinking. Mary showed us a photo of Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement in the Orkney Islands. Mary asked what questions this photo bought to mind but we were of all of course, as adults, approaching it with a knowledge of exactly what it was and what life was like then. One of her pupils when shown the same photo had said “But where do they plug in their ipad charger?”. I had many times had similar responses from students. “No electricity? But how did they watch TV?!”. The concept that there was a time before television just didn’t exist in their mind. The workshop moved on to ways of using contemporary culture from each period to help the students achieve a sense of period and understand the way that the people thought. She used things such as The ballads of Robin Hood, which were very enlightening. I learnt more about Robin Hood than I ever knew before, and found out in particular the scathing views of the church hierarchy at that time. We looked at various other suggestions, such as the use of WW1 music hall songs, which helped to show how attitudes to the war changed from year to year. It made me wonder if the WW1 postcards I own would be a valuable teaching resource. I already have some letters on our website sent to my granny during WW2, which openly show the feelings of her friends and relations on a range of subjects. It was a well presented and thought provoking workshop.
We had this year decided not to bring so much stuff to display and not to dress up in costume, instead opting for our work t-shirts which clearly showed who we were and what we did. I wish I had more time to put thought in to what else to bring but it has been such a busy year.
We made some new friends this year too. We met Hannah from the Thackray medical museum in Leeds. We had visited the museum some years earlier to chat about possible work and we had a look around whilst we were there. The thing that stuck in our mind most was a very early video from the early 1900s of an amputation being performed. Hannah had bought some curious artefacts from the museum for people to identify, which included a beautifully engineered cork press and a mid 18th century tooth pelican.
We also met David & Dickie from Frontline Living History who had an amazing stand full of wonderful original WW1 items. They provide WW1 workshops in schools like us. I was fascinated with Dickies medical items in particular, the history of medicine has been a keen interest of mine ever since I worked at the Royal Society in London. Some of Dickie’s items were particularly special as they belonged to his (I think) great grandfather who had been a surgeon during WW1, this included his military surgeons kit and sword. His whole family had been surgeons or doctors and he was also a trained modern day army medic. He helped satiate my never ending thirst for medical knowledge by talking me through the wonderful artefacts. We talked about the great advances in medicine during WW1 and also he enlightened me of some of the new advances brought about in modern wars, such as the modern version of the first field dressing which doesn’t absorb blood but instead stops it from coming out in the first place. It sounds so obvious when you think of it.
One of my favourite quotes from a student I once taught was “What will people think about us in a 100 years time?” Indeed, if we think back on the great advances in medicine during the last 100 years or so, blood transfusion, antibiotics, heart transplants. What wonders might the future yet hold?
David also very kindly helped me in my quest to find out more about my own grandfather John ‘Jack’ Jupp, who was only 17 when he joined up during WW1 and was an acting Captain by the end of the war. He had received a military cross on 20 October 1918 at Briastre, for capturing 2 machine gun nests. My ambition is to visit the spot that this happened in October this year. David was searching for trench maps so I could locate where he might have been based, sadly there wasn’t one, which he worked out was probably due to the late stage of the war, only being a few weeks before the end. But I shall write more about Jack if I make it there later this year. I have found out since that he too made his own pilgrimage to France to find the grave of a relative who had died in the war.
And so with a few hand shakes and farewells we said goodbye to friends old and new and hope to return next year.