Historians love pondering sense of period’s relationship to sense of place

Developing a sense of period is a very important part of the study of history.  Students with a good sense of period do better at history.  A sense of period can be gained in many ways.  The reading of good quality historical fiction and watching good quality historical drama is very helpful.  Yesterday, the ‘Voices of the Great War’ project group worked with a large-scale piece of art from 1916 to improve their understanding of the era.  Using their dramatic and historical ‘heads’ they recreated the scene of troops leaving from Victoria Station.  At first they stood in the position of key figures.  Then they thought about questions they wanted answering about the scene.  These were researched from source material.  They then stepped back into character and were able to give historically informed ideas about what the characters could be thinking.  In doing this they stood in particular positions and had to think about a busy station and what sort of place that would be.  It was important to think about their character in that specific place.

Meanwhile, Year 7 have been out and about in the local area as part of Investigating York.  Using OHTs (remember those?!) of photos of the same streets 80-100 years ago, we have been trying to work out how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.  In doing this we have gained a greater sense of how we would describe the differences between then and now.  We have also learnt the terminology that is used to describe periods and to apply it in order to, for example, distinguish Georgian houses from Victorian ones.  Having a vocabulary to be able to describe different styles in a place helps us to communicate our sense of period.

Developing a sense of how people thought in a particular period is a tricky part of gaining a sense of period.  Cultural mores, intellectual trends, a sense of what is valued by a society and where the progressive voices are to be found in a period are quite difficult concepts for Year 9.  Maybe we should just avoid them and stick to the concrete?  But what a shame to miss out on such riches!  The history of thought is more easily understood if it is focused on a place.  Concepts such as the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment, are slippery enough, without letting them range with no geographical focus.  By focusing on Weimar, and building up a sense of what the place was like at the time of Goethe and Schiller, it is easier to learn about the way these great minds shaped their time and the concerns of their age; to get a sense of their period.  By holding on to a sense of place, we can more easily think about who and what influenced these great minds, and how they went on to influence the future.

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