Exploring Local History

Author: Geoff Timmins

ISBN: 978-0-948140-03-7

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This new publication is a 130-page paperback full of detailed guidance and case studies. Its aim is to show how to stimulate the interest of young people and develop key skills such as numeracy and literacy. It focuses on explaining how a wealth of readily available sources –documentary, visual, oral and physical -  can enrich understanding of local history. With its innovative approach and extensive bibliography including websites, this wide ranging resource makes local history accessible and appealing to all types of schools and students.






Part I. Approaching Learning and Teaching in Local History

1. Local history: learning opportunities and principles   

2. Written sources for local history 18

3. Non-written sources for local history 35

4. Planning considerations 44

Part II. Exercises in local history

5. School life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

6. Naming local children in Tudor times

7. Road travellers in early Victorian times

8. Family life in the 1950s

9. Changes in Victorian terraced houses

10. Local history teaching and potsherds


Appendix 1: Contemporary illustrations of household artefacts


This guide has two main aims. The first is to address key considerations that arise in teaching local history at primary and secondary levels, bearing in mind the requirements made by the National Curriculum and the GCSE awarding bodies. The second is to consider examples of local history exercises that can be undertaken by primary and secondary school children, drawing on the types of documentary and non-documentary source material that are available in most localities and that are relatively easy to access. The emphasis is on devising active learning approaches that involve children in guided investigations designed to further their historical understanding.

The guide draws on a selection of the literature relating to teaching local history in schools, including that associated with successive versions of the National Curriculum. Examples of the learning and teaching approaches adopted are considered, along with matters arising.  For the most part, the selection has been made to extend discussion of the themes covered in the exercises; no attempt has been made to provide a comprehensive review. However, as opportunity arises, mention is made of work that has been reported in relation to other themes. Attention is also drawn to the guidance provided both in the general literature relating to history teaching and in the scholarly publications dealing with the exercise themes. The intention is to demonstrate the value that each of these types of source can have in helping to plan and teach local history in effective and stimulating ways and from an informed standpoint.

The guide is divided into two parts. The first comprises four chapters dealing with general matters that arise in approaching local history teaching. Chapter 1 sets the scene by considering the nature of local history teaching and the forms it can take. The discussion emphasises the rich opportunities that studying local history can offer in developing children’s historical knowledge and understanding, as well as their key skills, not least with regard to numeracy and literacy. The guiding principles that should govern learning and teaching in local history are also addressed. Chapter 2 discusses the types of written source material that can be used in teaching local history, commenting on their value and limitations. A similar approach is adopted in chapter 3, which deals with non-written sources. Chapter 4 is concerned with planning local history teaching. It is based around the notion of determining the types of historical understanding that children might attain, thereby giving purpose and direction to the investigations they undertake. Consideration is also given to the selection and adaptation that primary source material may require for classroom use.

The second part of the guide presents examples of classroom exercises in local history. The emphasis is on helping children to appreciate the nature of changes that have occurred over time at local level, as well as to deliberate on why change came about and the impact it had. The first two exercises are based on written sources. That in chapter 5 enables children to gain insights into how their forebears were educated during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using evidence taken principally from school log books. The chapter 6 exercise shows how baptism register evidence can be used to determine forename popularity in the late Tudor era. It provides opportunity for children to compare local and national preferences regarding the names parents chose and to make comparisons with present-day name choices.

The remaining exercises focus on the use of non-written primary evidence in teaching local history. Chapter 7 presents an exercise that shows how children can work with visual evidence, in this case taken from a local stagecoach advertisement, to address the theme of road travel in early Victorian times. Chapter 8 considers a means by which children can gather oral testimony, with a view to helping them investigate aspects of local family life during the 1950s. In chapter 9, consideration is given to how children can use physical evidence to explore the ways in which housing standards changed for local families during the 19th century. The final chapter also deals with physical evidence, focusing on the artefacts that past generations in the locality have left.  Each of these four chapters includes comment on other ways in which the type of evidence under consideration can be used in teaching local history, drawing on reported examples.

In devising the exercises, particular attention has been paid to the teaching approaches that can be used and the learning opportunities that arise. Consideration is also given to the ways in which the exercises might be developed. The exercises are intended to form components of study units that have either a local or a national focus. They might be incorporated directly into these units, wholly or in part, or replicated for other localities using the same types of source material and teaching approaches. Recreating the exercises adds to the immediacy of the investigations children undertake and enables them to compare their findings with those from another locality. With either approach, however, some adaptation of the exercises may well be needed to take account of the ages and abilities of the learners. The same points can be made about the related exercises appearing in the literature to which attention is drawn.

The guide is primarily intended for those who are new to local history teaching, whether established or recently-qualified classroom practitioners or participants in teacher-training courses. It should also be of use to undergraduate students who are undertaking work placements in schools, perhaps as part of modules that relate specifically to school history teaching. Hopefully, too, it will appeal to those working in the range of organisations that are involved with local history work in schools, including librarians, museum and art gallery curators and archivists, as well as parents and others who have an interest in how history is taught in schools.