The History Department at Open Evening

We’ve had some very successful History open evening activities in the past, my favourite being a version of Call My Bluff where students challenged visitors to guess what various artefacts were and what they were used for. I still have the outlandishly heavy canning machine my father in law loaned me for the occasion.

This year, we were assigned students from year 8 as helpers and, as year 8 are currently studying a new development unit, looking at the changes in the British diet since 1000 and the reasons for them (as mentioned in my previous post), we decided we’d challenge visitors to create a timeline of various foods.

I went to the supermarket. We labelled our pushed-together tables with four time periods: Present in Britain in the year 1000 (walnuts, grapes, peaches), Introduced by the Crusaders (spinach, raisins), Introduced from the New World (potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate) and Introduced in the last 200 years (pasta, bagels). The food was presented on plates and visitors had to guess three correctly in order to win a snack of their choice from the plates. Meanwhile, the year 8s were on hand to explain that grapes had been quite common in the year 1000 due to a slightly warmer climate (which they know from their reading of sections of this book), but that making raisins would have been very difficult without the heat of the Middle East; that potatoes rid Europe of famine; that people didn’t eat tomatoes in Europe for a long time because the leaves looked like those of the deadly nightshade plant; and so on.

It worked really well as an activity because the year 8s had plenty to say on the matter and were really eager to show off their knowledge; and surprisingly, not everybody picked chocolate as their prize.

I expect if we do the same next year I can come up with something a bit better than pasta and bagels for more modern introductions to the British diet. This is the problem with having not taught it all the way through yet – there might be something far more important and interesting when I finally get there.


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