SHP2014: Dan Nuttall and Laura Goodyear

Dan and Laura are running a workshop on “Big Picture, Small Details” using their study of the slave trade as an example.

They aimed to raise historical consciousness, connecting past, present and future and recognising their place in time. They also need to recognise that History operates on different scales and make informed judgements based on their understanding of the past. The BIG History of slavery reinforces the patterns in human history, from hunter-gatherer societies right through to today. It’s loosely based on the work carried out by the Big History Group at Benton Park School.

The study of the transatlantic slave trade was placed within the 13,000 year study of slavery through human history. The slavery focus worked well because there were plenty of misconceptions and issues with definitions to challenge. For example, the distinctions between slaves and non-slaves are subtle, not simple; slavery is not a spatially and temporally localised phenomenon.

Laura talks about the skill of scale-switching: not everything requires being taught in the wider context; one or two units a year is enough to help them recognise that history works on different scales and help them to hone their skills. The slavery unit, for example, is 8 lessons on the context and 4 on the transatlantic slave trade, for example.

We have a look at the lesson resources, beginning with the lessons on the transatlantic slave trade, which cover the triangle trade, the life of a slave (through sources) and abolition. After this, students are polled on, for example, when they thought slavery began, which helps to identify any misconceptions which students might have inferred from studying the transatlantic slave trade. There is some discussion with delegates about whether they held these misconceptions before that study, or whether the power of suggestion meant that they answered in a certain way.

Laura then shares information about student work on the bigger picture lessons. She makes the interesting observation that, especially the brighter students want to drill down in extreme detail on each time period and sometimes struggle with the bigger picture. We spend some time looking at the big picture lessons and accompanying resources (I liked the hunter-gatherer decision making activity a lot). Afterwards students were polled using the same set of questions and the data showed a reduction in the misconceptions after these lessons; they showed gains in historical consciousness. It also created a real buzz with the students and within the department, and it seemed to have a lot of “stickability”.

I like this idea: it might be useful when teaching the conflict between Plains Indians and white settlers, to place this in the wider context of colonists subjugating natives.

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