The hidden treasures of school records

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Not many history teachers are able to bring primary sources into lessons and allow pupils to handle them. But Christine Joy, archivist at Manchester girls' high, regularly invites pupils to examine photographs and records from school files. Working with key stage 2 pupils at the adjoining prep, she opens their textbook in Victorian history and asks them where they think the information came from. She then shows them photographs of Manchester high pupils from the same period. "This is what historians do," she said. "They look at material, bind it together, and make it into a book."

Dr Joy surveyed girls' schools established before 1880 and found that 84 per cent would like to make better use of the documents and information in their records. There are many ways in which to do this. For example, Manchester pupils' contributions to school magazines across the years reflect changing attitudes to war. During the Boer War, girls wrote poems such as "Britain was made to conquer". By the First World War, the poems had changed. Under the title "My Son", one girl wrote about those soldiers who return from war handicapped or not at all. And during the Cold War, they wrote about pacifism and the fear of nuclear holocaust.

Queenswood school, Hertfordshire, is keeping its archive up to date by getting pupils to video interviews with former students. Among its archive treasures is a letter in a school magazine from 1917 in which a Russian pupil describes the scene on the St Petersburg streets outside her window.

Fiona Kisby, history teacher, said: "The Russian revolution didn't happen in a bubble. I tell my pupils, it affected girls like you." She would now like to see a national project in which pupils at girls' schools interview their oldest alumni. " Christine Joy's article will be published in the National Archives magazine in February.

I'd like to hear from anyone working on a project or publishing a paper that they think is relevant to TES readers. Please email me at: adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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