Signs of The Times

5th January 1996 at 00:00
How can you get pupils interested in history when it can seem far away and irrelevant?

Maureen McTaggart previews a CD-Rom set that aims to solve the problem by bringing 200 years of events to life with pictures, articles and eyewitness reports

With its mountains of articles, illustrations and more than 20 million photographs, the Times archive is a veritable Utopia for the news addict. So News Multimedia, a subsidiary of News International has drawn together 200 years of events for a forthcoming series of CD-Roms for schools and colleges.

The Times Perspectives CD-Roms use original material from the archive, including accounts of Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, women's battle for equality and the systematic poisoning of the planet.

Each of the four CD-Rom titles in the series, which is due for release later this year but can be seen at BETT 96, is illustrated by thousands of articles, photographs and eyewitness reports from The Times and The Sunday Times. And they are copyright-free, which means materials from them can be used widely in classrooms.

Dominic Johnson, publishing and marketing manager for News Multimedia (which already produces The Times and The Sunday Times on CD-Rom), says the CDs are designed as an unusual resource for primary and secondary schools, but are easy to use: "We don't want to blind teachers with technology, so we have tried to keep things as simple as possible. And with limited access to perhaps the only CD-Rom machine in the school, teachers can't afford to spend hours working out how CDs work."

The history, in the style it was written at the time, kicks off with letters from Darwin defending his Origins of the Species in Planet Earth: The Story of Environmental Awareness. Using themes such as land, water, air, energy, development, people, animals and responses, Planet Earth shows that warning bells were ringing long before words like "environment" and "ecology" were considered important.

Once upon a time marriage and property rights for women were unthinkable, but Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters turned injustice into a mass crusade for equal pay and status. Two hundred years later much has changed - but not before Iranian women wielding stilletto-heeled shoes had to fight with mullahs and clerics who were opposed to granting them votes, and the striking housewives of 1970s America urged, "Don't iron while the strike is hot." These facts along with images from the women's movement are documented in Women's Rights: The Story So Far.

First and second world war projects are popular in primary and secondary schools, and there is already a wide range of computer materials to interest pupils and teachers. But according to Dominic Johnson, News Multimedia has incorporated hitherto unprinted stories about this crucial period of history in World War One and World War Two, two CD-Rom discs that contain practically fascimile copies of the newspapers. "We were able to find a selection of reporters' notebooks and have printed these stories alongside the censored articles that would have appeared in the papers at the time," he explains.

The set tries to bring the conflicts to life with more than 2,000 articles and 500 pictures, complemented by several video and audio clips. The social history of the period is captured in advertisements and letters.

News Multimedia reckons the set dovetails with all key stages by helping children to develop a sense of chronology and understand how history is interpreted. "All the CD-Roms were developed with help from education consultants and teachers," says Mr Johnson. "And pupils can follow the information signposts of history as written by The Times, 'the newspaper of record'."

* The Times Perspectives titles (Pounds 59.95)for Windows and Macintosh formats come with teachers' notes and pupils' worksheets whichcan be photocopied Details from News Multimedia,PO Box 481, Virginia Street, London E1 9BD.Tel: 0171 782 39723988. Or by electronic mail from drew

* News Multimedia - stand 223

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