Black history

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Nicola Boughey reviews a website that explores the country's historical ethnic diversity

Black Presence, a recently developed website from The National Archives, explores the historical presence in Britain of people of African and Asian origin from 1500 - 1850.

I found it highly useful as a resource for teachers and students alike.

It could be deployed in several curriculum programmes of study, including Black Peoples of the Americas, the Roman Empire, and Britain 1500 - 1750, as well as several GCSE and A-level syllabuses. The website would be a helpful resource for Black History Month, and also for examining cross-curricular themes of English, music and theatre.

This is predominantly an information site, and students can access six "galleries" of exhibitions. It generally comprises blocks of text interspersed with primary evidence, where pupils can view online versions of original documents - these images, maps and transcripts can all be downloaded.

Black Presence is very easy to navigate, even for beginners. A glossary of unfamiliar terms can be accessed by clicking the links embedded in the text. My Year 8s found it easy to manipulate and made excellent use of the glossary. There are also further references listed for additional research.

The use of pictures and images that can be clicked on enhanced the pupils' experience of the website. However, some did feel there was too much unbroken text and that it perhaps was not as pupil-friendly as it could be. This was especially the case for younger pupils and those with lower reading ages, who lost interest confronted with so much text.

Black Presence could be used as a research tool for teachers, or for pupils to gather their own information.

I used the site with a group of Year 8s as part of their work for Black History Month. We focused on the Culture Gallery, and in pairs the pupils produced presentations concerning different aspects of culture, ranging from theatre to music to literature and the influence on Britain.

Overall, Black Presence is an excellent resource for schools and not just for history departments. It is easy to use and contains lots of interesting and relevant information that be deployed in a variety of ways.

Although aimed at a variety of age groups, it seems to work most effectively with higher-ability or older pupils who are able to use it for research purposes, as there is a lot of text. However, younger children could use it to access the images and original documentation.

Nicola Boughey, Claremont High School, London borough of Brent

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