Hard times for the Victorians
How We Used to Live will be a familiar title to anyone who has taught primary history in the past two decades. This schools TV series has now branched out into the field of information technology with a CD-Rom on the early Victorians.
The format is the tried and tested one of the TV series, with a fictionalised biography used to illustrate social, economic and industrial changes in a particular period. The CD, however, offers more by directly relating the fictional characters to historical events in the first part of the 19th century, and supporting these historical facts with a wealth of contemporary archive materials.
The movement of the Coggan family from rural Yorkshire into a growing industrial town graphically illustrates the privations of the working classes in early Victorian society. You follow their story through a slide-show which comprises still images of the characters and the events in their lives, together with a narrated text.
Few pupils and teachers will wish to see the slide-show as a continuous sequence, and it is probably best taken in smaller sections. There are plenty of routes built into the CD to allow this sort of manipulation, including a time-line showing the relative position of the slide-show sequence to the passage of events in the family's life. So you can always resume the sequence from a particular point.
Pupils may have the accompanying text narrated from the CD, although this is unlikely to solve the difficulties that some may experience in understanding all the vocabulary used to describe features of early Victorian society and the way this affects the Coggans. The text also has highlighted words which prompt definitions when selected.
The slide-show is supported by biographies of the characters in the form of text and images supported by video clips. These are useful in explaining the historical context of each character and are probably better consulted sooner rather than later when using the slide-show.
The excitement and value of the CD lies in the possible investigations which pupils can undertake of real historical events that have had an impact on this fictional family.
The section on the CD called "Investigating History" has references to work, trade and industry, domestic life, leisure, education and transport. Selecting one of these headings brings up screens of associated information which include excellent contemporary text and images, together with video extracts from the television programmes to explain puzzling features like a "Tommy Shop".
Once again the text can be heard as well as read, and both images and text can be expanded to full screen size in order to allow a detailed examination. A picture of some of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the literature of popular protest illustrated something of the variety and quality of materials available.
Both PC and Acorn versions come with TrailSave, a tool which allows illustrations to be brought together from anywhere within the CD to create a reference collection. A separate application called Scrapbook allows materials from this disc and others to be combined in new presentations. The package is topped off by a teachers' guide.
Early Victorians is more than a complement to any television programme; it is a natural and potentially successful development. It offers the chance for pupils and teachers to relate human stories to real history.