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Using Historical Documents to Capture Student Engagement

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Written by Nikki Paine

As well as my genealogical work, I also work part time teaching mathematics to adults in the community for a local further education college. This week I was planning a session on revision for mean, mode, median, range, tally charts and graphs. Not the most inspiring of subjects for learners who find mathematics difficult. Rather than collating information on the shoe sizes of the group – a scenario used in many teaching aids, I wanted something different. So how could I bring my love of history into the classroom and make learning real and interesting for my students?

Clearly I needed a resource that contained information that could be extracted to meet the learning aims and I also needed something that was dramatic to hold their interest. In the past, when teaching public health to 16 – 18-year-olds, I have used 1700/1800 death and burial records. One example was of a girl who died at the age of 16 from a cut finger. Asking the students why this would have happened they can be a little flummoxed at first until they realized tetanus and/or antibiotic treatment had not been discovered at that time. Seeing the old writing and the number of infant deaths that occurred had the students riveted to their seats. This is a teaching method that really works.

With this in mind I decided to look for records relating to deaths on the Titanic. However, the deaths were all listed the same as presumed drowned. I then looked at the first page within the Titanic shipping death collection and found what I needed. Eleven people were listed from different ships during 1912. Ages ranged from 4 months to 67. Causes of death were given including several bronchopneumonia and heart disease. We were able to explore mean, mode and median death age, range of data sample and then used a tally chart to collate information on causes on death which was then transferred to bar charts. As well as the mathematical practice the students also acquired some knowledge on geography, social and medical history. They loved it, were focused throughout and asked for more learning to take place in this manner.

But what of copyright? The document I used was from ancestry.co.uk. Under their terms and conditions of use you can republish public domain images. However this must only be a small portion of the documents and Ancestry must be credited as the source of the image.  Written permission from Ancestry is needed should you wish to republish a greater proportion of images from a collection. Should you fail to follow these guidelines then you could lose your membership to the site and even be prosecuted.

Copyright legislation is specific to each country. In the United Kingdom some leeway exists for educational use. Schools and colleges will hold educational copying licenses. In 2014 educational copyright legislation was amended to include a ‘fair dealing exception’. Work could be copied if the following criteria are met:

“1. The work must be used solely to illustrate a point;

  1. the use of the work must not be for commercial purposes;
  2. the use must be fair dealing; and
  3. it must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.”

 

Their History

This means tutors/teachers now have more access to original documentation and digital media. So could scanned copies of original documents be used more in education, and in particular for capturing the interest of students in a subject such as mathematics that they struggle to see relevance for? From my experience this week I would argue that yes we should be using them and not just for mathematics. Health and social care teaching as well as sociology, history and geography would all benefit from these resources and I am sure other teachers/lecturers would find uses for them in other subject areas as well. Most importantly it gives students a window to the past, their history.

“Their history” is perhaps the key point here that is missed by schools and FE colleges. Universities, such as Strathclyde in Glasgow, are offering introductory courses, Diplomas and Masters; Adult Education is offering family history courses but with little if any recognized accreditation, but FE colleges and schools? Nothing. It has already been seen above that adult learners and 16 – 18-year-old students quickly become engaged with original documentation, and how this could benefit their wider studies. How much more would they engage if the documentation related to their family? The resources are out there, there are qualified genealogists who could teach the programmes, and courses could bring in much needed revenue. If examination boards were to bring in genealogical qualifications at Level 3 is there a career progression pathway for students to follow? Of course there is. The Association of Professional Genealogists (AGP) name a few possibilities: author; columnist; DNA specialist; editor; heir searcher; lecture and seminar presentations; house historians; librarians; transcribers; a travel/tour genealogist and specialties such as adoption, African-American and American Indian research. Others that could be included are archivist and family tracing for medical connections in inherited diseases.

So what would be the next steps to take? Genealogy needs to be recognized by the masses as a valid career and for this to happen the profession needs to fight for high professional standards and recognized robust qualifications. Steps are already being taken for putting this in place. The APG has a process for certification and, in the United Kingdom, Strathclyde is leading the way in setting up a worldwide register of genealogists, in collaboration with the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies and the University of Dundee. Popular television programmes have taken family history to the masses and the time if now right for the general public to recognize the value that a properly qualified genealogist can bring to personal research, historical research, medical research and education.


Association of Professional Genealogists. (2017) Find a Specialist. www.apgen.org : accessed 17 January 2017.

Qualified Genealogists Org. (2017) Accepted Qualifications, Recognised Institutions. www.qualifiedgenealogists.org/accepted-qualifications : accessed 17 January 2016.


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