Behind the scenes Exhibitions Long read

Inspiring Tomorrow’s History Teachers

A joint blog post by Dr Janette Martin (Special Collections Student Engagement Manager) and Thomas Donnai (Lecturer in Initial Teacher Education), celebrating a new collaboration between the Library and the School of Environment, Education and Development.

In October 2019, The John Rylands Library hosted a workshop for 15 History PGCE students led by Adam Cooke (Library Widening Participation Co-ordinator) and Janette Martin (Student Engagement Manager).  The aim was two-pronged: to deliver an excellent teaching experience for University of Manchester students on the PGCE history course, but, perhaps more importantly, to create ambassadors for The John Rylands Library.  As participants on the workshop, the PGCE students learned that the Library houses world-class Special Collections in a beautiful Victorian neo-Gothic building and through its Widening Participation scheme offers fantastic teaching and learning opportunities to schools in the Greater Manchester area.  By inspiring trainee history teachers, many of whom will end up teaching in local schools, we hope to create ambassadors for the Library and ones who, once in post, would bring their pupils to the Library and embed digitised University of Manchester Special Collections in their own classroom practice.

Adam took the students through how the Library works with schools in the Greater Manchester area and the mechanics of devising classroom sessions at the Library.  He spoke eloquently about widening participation and how he saw the collections and the grade-1 listed building itself, as a way to engage with schools in areas of Manchester characterised by deprivation. Adam also showcased some of the modern history collections including correspondence from the Guardian Archive. Plans are underway for further collaboration and the PGCE students will be returning in March to do further archival work, which will include looking at letters from Emmeline Pankhurst and Winston Churchill and more.  They will also receive training in how to navigate the catalogues and order up resources.

The second part of the morning involved a private tour of the Peterloo: Manchester’s Fight for Freedom exhibition by Dr Janette Martin who curated this key exhibition and has worked closely with the imaging team and metadata cataloguers on creating a digitised Peterloo collection.  Sources held at the Library document the background and aftermath of the massacre, as well as poignant stories of those who attended what was supposed to be a peaceful meeting on August 16th 1819.  Peterloo is a key moment in Manchester’s democratic history and has great potential in a classroom setting and yet for many years its story has been muted.

Peterloo exhibition
Dr Janette Martin leads a curators tour of the Peterloo exhibition for PGCE students. Photograph by Thomas Donnai.

During the exhibition tour we discussed why Peterloo was largely absent from the curriculum and how the interest generated by the bicentenary had refocused attention on this ‘awkward’ moment in Manchester’s history.  Janette also highlighted a graphic novel Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre (2019) as an innovative way of teaching about the massacre.  Many of the illustrations in this book reference other conflicts across time and place, from Tiananmen Square to Orgreave and every piece of dialogue is taken verbatim from primary sources. Better still, a freely available version for schools is now available here. Although there was no space to discuss ‘Peterloo’ and the curriculum in the exhibition itself, Janette has long been interested in how protest movements and history from below are taught in the classroom. During her research into the exhibition she was delighted to find on eBay a Jackdaw teachers’ pack published in the mid-sixties which reproduced Peterloo facsimiles.  Manchester Public Library also produced a Peterloo Teaching Resource in 1969, a copy of which can be seen at the John Rylands Library, ref. R123072.

Jackdaw teachers’ pack (1965). Author’s own copy.

Tom Donnai, the PGCE subject leader for History, was enthused by the collaboration and had the following to say: ‘Getting students to look beyond the immediate confines of the classroom is so important at this stage and the work with John Rylands Library will have stimulated ideas for future fieldwork when they are employed as NQTs and beyond. We are looking forward to further work with the Library in March, when we will be exploring the Library’s extensive archives. Financial pressures on schools mean that fieldwork is increasingly being neglected. Therefore it was heartening to experience a day of superb activities provided at no cost. What a wonderful experience for the trainees, who will now go into their placement schools and generate ideas for future fieldwork’

The PGCE students were similarly enthused:

“This morning has made me excited to teach Manchester’s own history in schools.  It is exciting to know that the resources are so easily available.”

“This was a really good seminar and has been a great way of engaging with history so close to home.  Definitely stuff I can incorporate with my teaching.”

We hope very much to continue this collaboration between PGCE students at the University of Manchester and the Library, forging relationships that will continue over the teaching careers of a new generation of history teachers.

Feedback sent by one of the PGCE students.

1 comment on “Inspiring Tomorrow’s History Teachers

  1. stellahalkyardoutlookcom

    Wonderful post – keep up the good work!

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