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History in memories of Arran islanders

Isle of Arran Heritage: The Arran High School Project. Editor Maureen Farquharson. Arran Graphics amp; Computers, pound;14.99 plus pound;2 pamp;p. Ian McLaren, tel 01770 600341.

Children today are accused of not knowing enough about their local history.

Isle of Arran Heritage sets out to address the problem. The illustrated text is a history of the isle, drawn from Arran High pupils' work over the past 20 years.

What is important is the way the children have collected and recorded the evidence of ordinary people's lives and this can be passed on to new generations. Oral history is still a relative newcomer to historical study, yet who can deny its worth in recording the lives not only of the great and good but also of men and women struggling for everyday existence?

As project co-ordinator, depute headteacher Ian McLaren makes clear that part of the aim of the project is to inspire other schools and communities to find out about the past of their own communities.

Children - originally S2 pupils but now S1s - approach the ongoing research in a methodical way, choosing an area of interest, such as local entertainment or local worthies. They are then paired with a member of the community who has experience to share. The whole island is covered, from south to north. Many memories, that might have been lost have thus been captured for posterity.

Youngsters have also used parish records, diaries and school logbooks to put the information in a wider historical context.

Citizenship is moving up the curriculum agenda and here is an example of how children can plan and conduct a suitable investigation. But this project is more than just that. It is about participating in the community, building bridges between generations and generating a sense of identity.

What is so appealing about this book is the language of the youngsters featured throughout and their drawings, which richly illustrate the narrative. Photographs of former schoolmates have been included too. Given the popularity of Internet sites such as Friends Reunited, there will obviously be great interest in these.

The book may be about Arran but the approach it uses could be universal. It is a worthwhile addition to any school library.

Jim McGonigle is PT of history at Hermitage Academy, Helensburgh

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