Time and place for everything

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Penelope Harnett looks at how history and geography can work together in primary school

What have growing seeds, colour mixing and life in a Victorian home all got in common? Answer - they were all constituents (science, art and history) of a topic on change planned by a primary school in the pre-national curriculum era.

It's one example of the often tenuous links between subjects created in the 1980s which finally discredited much planning through topic work. However, the national curriculum has since clarified the nature of different subjects with key knowledge, skills and understanding incorporated in the programmes of study.

There is now a much clearer framework to help the identification of potential subject links. In history and geography, many areas of study lend themselves to a more integrated approach. For example, at key stage 1 children's geographical knowledge of the seaside is important to inform their investigations into what seaside holidays were like in the past.

In local history too, geography can contribute to an understanding of the locality in the past. Both subjects provide opportunities for developing enquiries from a range of different sources.

Interpretations are emphasised: in history, recognition that people may hold different views on what has happened is important. Similarly, in geography, different viewpoints relating to topical issues are investigated.

Geographical and historical knowledge are employed in describing and explaining the location of places and why places have developed as they have. While historical enquiries include the impact of people on places and the environment in the past, geographical enquiries include the impact of people today. History might ask: "How has this place changed?" while geography asks: "How is this place changing?"

And both subjects may consider how places have been and continue to be affected by different landforms and climatic conditions. In seeking to describe and explain changes in the human and natural worlds, both subjects can evaluate these changes and draw conclusions about their effects.

* Sequencing is important in both subjects, whether it is ordering events in the past or noting the stages in the development of a river from its source. Chronological skills and vocabulary incorporated within the history curriculum are also useful for extending geographical understanding.

* Fieldwork techniques such as using a camera, reading maps and plans, recording observations on maps and diagrams provide opportunities for developing interpretations of the past in more depth.

* Historical and geographical sources of information are often interdependent; for example a study of different maps may show how a place has developed over time.

lSecondary sources of information are also important and to use them effectively children need to develop a range of skills, including information retrieval, identifying appropriate questions, interpreting and making deductions as well as recording findings.

lKnowledge and understanding of people's beliefs and values may be enhanced by history and geography. The subjects provide opportunities to study cultural diversity, social justice, the interdependence of different peoples and power relationships.

lVarious themes such as personal survival, migration, land use, industrialisation and new technology recur in different periods and different places reflecting common preoccupations.

The examples here were developed from research commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on the links between history and geography.

The old pre-national curriculum topic can now be replaced with an integrated approach which builds on coherent subject links and which will enhance and extend children's learning across the curriculum.

Dr Penelope Harnett is principal lecturer in primary education at the University of the West of England, Bristol Units in the QCA scheme of work for primary history will be available later this year. Examples of linking history and geography can be found in the Historical Association's journal, Primary History, no 32, Autumn 2002 pp 18-21

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