SHP15: Thompson and Kitson

This session is about using one woman’s story to illuminate the recent past. We’re looking at Mavis Hyman, a lady born towards the end of the Raj.

We start with a card sort of the events of her life, annotating a map with important places in her life. We then look at the themes that emerge from the events of Mavis’s life: empire, migration, conflict, heritage and identity, discrimination; we match the events with their most relevant theme, having discussions about the interplay as we do.

Sarah then shares the rationale for using an individual story like Mavis’s in the classroom: she’s an ordinary person who can reveal a great deal of extraordinary experiences and events. The history of the 20th century can be so big and vast that students struggle to understand the scope and importance of events within it, events which had an impact on ordinary people like you and me.

Having recently met a local man who came to school for a WW1 reenactment and was able to tell me about building bits of the school, this is inspiring me to see who we can find locally to share their story of the 20th century. We are hoping to add a unit to year 9 considering the significance of Wiltshire across the time periods studied at key stage 3 and this would add an additional local dimension to that unit.

Inspired by Christine Counsell’s work on Josephine Butler and the 5 Rs of significance, Alison explains how they decided to use the interviews they did with Mavis and how they built on their knowledge of her life to create an enquiry unit.

We look specifically at the lesson pertaining to what Mavis’s life can tell us about migration and identity in the 20th century. Her family and the Jewish community in India considered themselves to be European and were very upset by independence. We do some tasting: chutneys and relishes, sweet things; we think about what the ingredients are and track Indian, Middle Eastern, Jewish and English influences.


The Jewish influences are particularly difficult to identify because these manifested more in what they wouldn’t cook, or things they did not combine. We look at a clip in which Mavis talks about her sense of identity and how it has shifted and stayed the same. The lesson is followed by a look at terrorism: Mavis’s daughter Miriam died in the 7/7 bombing. We look at the crossover with the materials produced for the Miriam’s Vision project referenced in Alison’s plenary yesterday.

Outcomes. Looking through a historical window. Give students an outline of a four pane window and ask students to write or draw what they think Mavis’s life has revealed about the recent past on one pane. On the other panes: what their own family story reveals about the recent past, what another students story reveals and any historical questions they have about the past. Consider the question, ‘Ordinary people are of no historical significance’ – how far do you agree? Deliberately provocative and should provoke some interesting responses from students.

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