Cinema from the 1900s

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Film as Evidence: Britain in 1900 Terry Staples and Ben Walsh bfi Education, pound;34.99 Tel: 0870 241 3764

Film as Evidence: Britain in 1900 is an attractive resource for teaching history to nine to 15-year-olds.

The pack comprises a videotape with 37 short films and a CD-Rom with material for teachers and students. The films really are short: from 32 seconds to six minutes and 25 seconds. Made between 1896 and 1906, they range from "Foundling Hospital Sports Day" and "Gordon Highlanders Leave for the Boer War" to "Scenes at Balmoral", which shows Queen Victoria in 1896.

Terry Staples and Ben Walsh want the films to help pupils "get to know" the Victorians. Certainly the films offer unique visual evidence about the period: clothing, children's games, transport and new technologies, as well as prejudices and assumptions relating to gender and social class.

Most of the films date from the last five years of Victoria's reign, when cinema was brand new - the first film ever was made in 1895. The last six films on the tape are from the early Edwardian period and they show how more sophisticated cinematic techniques were starting to develop in the early 20th century.

The Teaching Notes stress that the films cannot be taken at face value and they offer guidance on how to show this in the classroom. The six assignments for key stage 3 pupils address the overall question: "Were people in 1900 just like us today?"

The final assignment asks: "Should we bin the films?", a clever way of generating discussion about the use and value of historical evidence.

The student handouts consist of a storyboard, archive film posters, activity sheets, notes and original source texts. The pupil sheets can be easily printed off from the CD-Rom. But it is a fiddly business finding your way around the CD-Rom. It would have been helpful if a book had also been included in the pack.

There are bound to be some pupils who are less than excited by "Sheep Dipping", "Cricket Match" and "Vinolia Soap". But others will be excited by this special kind of access to the period. The authors have worked hard to make the pack pleasurable and relevant, as well as instructive.

Susan Williams is lecturer in history in the School of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London

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