SHP15: fifth plenary

Richard Woff is talking about teaching history with 100 objects (40 of which were picked with KS3 in mind). He explains that it was funded by the DfE whilst at the same time focused on providing an alternative to their Britcentric history slant.

The project is pitched at providing teachers with the resources to use the objects in their classrooms, so although there are 40 specific for ks3, any object could be used in any phase. The website allows for sorting by theme or continent, for example.

Each object is accompanied by 6-800 words of background with lots of links to further information about the context. Bigger picture, Teaching ideas and For the classroom form the subsets that enrich the experience of each object.

Richard moves on the share some of the thinking about how objects can be helpful in the classroom. We look at extracts from writers about objects. Firstly, ASByatt in Possession, about Roland, an academic who finds a clutch of letters by the poet in a library book and, in spite of making copies, longs to keep them. Secondly, Hardy’s poem In the British Museum, which we think suggests objects provide a tangible link to the past as if they can hold echoes of what they have witnessed. Finally, McGuane’s Keep the Change, the extract of which suggests resonance across time and space.


Richard speaks very passionately about how valuable objects can be in helping students learn history.

Objects are silent. We give them the voice when we teach them. Start with basic questions and then move on by drilling down, for example by only asking questions to begin with who. Focus on an aspect, such as materials and making:


This leads to enquiries that are object-driven: finding out about the context in which the object existed.

Richard talks about writing object biographies. The main stages of an object biography: material exploitation, construction, exchange, consumption/use, discovery and re-use. The biographies can be actual or hypothetical/typical. You can then add in people: material extractors, traders, transporters, makers, sellers, buyers, users, losers, finders, collectors, donors, curators, history teachers! What was it like to mine turquoise in the Arizona desert at the time of the Aztecs.

Use gaps as hooks:


How did this drum end up in Virginia? We look at another, a copper-alloy jug from Medieval Britain, found in Africa. Fill out the context by looking for pictures of how these sorts of objects were used at the time: pictures of jugs being used in the Middle Ages.

There were many other ideas for using objects but I got distracted thinking about what I would do with this in my own classroom! Sorry, readers. Go and visit the website, but give yourself a good hour or more to do it even a smidgen of the justice it deserves.


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