For explore your archives week I decided to have a look at our Batho Collection of outdated historical text books and see how archives have been used as an educational resource. According to Professor Gordon Batho, the use of primary sources as an educational resource assists the teacher in conveying the reality of the past. It is one thing to read a narrative about what has happened but it is another to see original documents from that period and determine their significance yourself. The use of archives enables students to sharpen their analytical skills and formulate arguments of their own. This creates a historical debate amongst the class who may have opposing views about the credibility and outcome of such documents.
Sources also have a prominent place within the National Curriculum whereby pupils as young as Key Stage 1 are encouraged to ‘understand some of the ways in which we find out about the past’ using historical sources. As the Key Stage increases, so does the reliance on source work as a means of interpreting history. Pupils in Key Stage 2 are expected to understand how the knowledge we have of the past is constructed based on a range of sources. By Key Stage 3, children are taught to use historical sources as a way of formulating and strengthening evidence supported claims. They are encouraged to view history as a debate rather than a singular narrative. The use of source work throughout the National Curriculum shows that primary documentation constitutes a significant part of the learning process.
Here are some examples of archives being used in education from our collection:
Sources for History – Rosemary Rees and Sue Styles
Rees and Styles created a series of six guides suitable for pupils aged 13 – 16. They stated that archives and record offices provide ‘a wealth of fascinating and often startling documentation’ for the young historian to look over and decipher what life was life in past centuries. These particular packs were created around Bradford in Yorkshire and Tring in Hertfordshire. The aim behind their creation was to introduce children to the study of original source material. The different guides use an alternate type of source; from photographs to official records and parish registers to maps, giving the children an opportunity to see the extent of material that archives hold and the different ways in which it can be used.
Gloucestershire Records Office – The Poor Law in Gloucestershire
This is a resource compiled by the staff at Gloucestershire Records office which covers the topic of the Elizabethan Poor Law. This pack includes workhouse rules, settlement certificates and vestry orders for relief. No guidance has been provided for teachers allowing the class the freedom to analyse the documents without being led in a particular direction. This would have been targeted at a slightly older audience as transcripts have only been provided for the first two documents, after which students are expected to familiarise themselves with the handwriting techniques and apply these to the rest of the document.
Act of Union – Northern Ireland Public Record Office
The Northern Ireland Public Record Office produced packs of facsimiles of documents from their collections. This particular pack is entitled ‘The Act of Union’ and contains documents ranging from 1798 – 1800. Each document has a brief introduction providing basic contextual information and a typed transcript so that the material can be read correctly. The teacher is given some background information to the topic and then creates lessons based on the contents. The children are expected to formulate their own answer as to what happened and it exemplifies how history can be interpreted and understood. The use of archives meant that the children would immerse themselves in primary sources of the time period and learn via this rather than relying solely on secondary documentation.
These are only a few examples of how sources are used as an educational resource and how archives can make their collections accessible in schools. The packs cover both local and wider histories and are a great starting point for introducing children to archives and critical analysis.
For further information about Explore your Archive Week please click below:
Thanks for reading.
 G. Batho, ‘Sources’, in Handbook for History Teachers, W. Burston and C. Green, (Eds.), London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1962, p. 97.