Trail the battlefields of Britain online

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Websites complementing the recent BBC television series Battlefield Britain enable students and teachers to explore the locations and find out about further resources. Ben Walsh reports

Museum Trails www.24hourmuseum.org.uk

Battlefield Britain support site www.bbc.co.ukhistoryprogrammesbattlefield_britainindex.shtml

The recent BBC TV series Battlefield Britain would have been easy to dismiss as "boy's toys" programmes, in which grown-up boys indulge their passion for weapons and gadgets. But it would be quite wrong to do this as it provided us with engaging programmes on eight key battles in British history.

Although the BBC support website, which seems little more than a collection of links to existing BBC resources, is disappointing, the Battlefield Trails produced by the 24 Hour Museum (commissioned by the BBC) are a jewel in the crown of the programmes' web support - well, eight jewels to be precise.

Some of the battles in the TV series were well known, like Hastings in 1066, Naseby in 1645 and the Battle of Britain in 1940. Others reminded us of important events such as Boudicca's rebellion against Roman rule or the long struggle between English and Welsh rulers for control of Wales. It was also good to see Culloden and the Battle of the Boyne being covered and lending weight to the Battlefield Britain (as opposed to England) title.

Each of the related trails consists of a narrative of the battle and the events surrounding it, along with suggestions and recommendations on museums you can visit to further your knowledge and understanding of the events of the battle. At the most basic level, each trail provides an interesting narrative which covers the main points in the build-up to the battle, the battle itself and its aftermath. The trails are all visually arresting as well, reflecting the fact that the 24 Hour Museum is a place in which Britain's museums can show off their wares.

The trail on Boudicca has a fascinating array of powerful visual images.

They range from the statue of Boudicca in London, a photograph of Roman re-enactors, a computer generated image taken from the TV programme and photographs of archaeological objects. Just these images on their own demonstrate the wide range of source material available to historians today and do history teachers a timely service by reminding us of these sources and, more importantly, making it easy for us to access them.

It is easy to see how the trails could be used by the enterprising teacher in that old favourite of an activity, the brochure for tourists advertising a battle site to potential visitors. If students use the contents of the trails as a mine of information they should produce very fine brochures indeed.

Another interesting feature of the trails is the way their author, Corrine Field, has interviewed experts and quotes them throughout each trail. Most of the experts are sufficiently distinguished and opinionated to make these trails a valuable source of historical interpretations for pupils to study and compare. For example, in the battlefield trail on the Armada one expert declares that Drake "I didn't have the aristocratic background of the other commander but certainly seemed to command the respect of his men...".

Any history teacher worth their salt will be reaching for the sources to get students to see what evidence led the expert to this assessment. And this is where the battlefield trails really come into their own, because they provide the teacher with a real insight into the many different museums and collections of material which are likely to be within reach on a field visit or through a virtual visit if the relevant museum has a suitable website. On the trail relating to the Battle of Naseby, I counted references to 14 different museums and archives, ranging from the National Archives to one painting in a local museum at Market Harborough. The battlefield trails are interesting resources in their own right and are a potential springboard to a whole new collection of museums and archives containing collections which will further stimulate interest in history.

Ben Walsh is a history teacher, author and member of the Historical Association Secondary Education Committee

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