Back in July, three leading members of the Young Historians Project, who are spearheading the school visits initiative, visited Roundhay School in Leeds to deliver a history workshop to Year 10 students, with the aim of inspiring these students to think about the many dynamic ways of exploring Black British History.
The day was structured around research the YHP team have conducted so far for our current project: African Women in the British Health Service, from 1930-2000. We began with a quiz that ranged from general questions about the NHS to specific questions about Black African woman in the NHS. The general lack of exposure to this history was evident among the students in attendance. This brought home to us just how valuable YHP’s work is in promoting these underrepresented histories.
YHP’s motto is “each one teach one”, which means we have an obligation to pass knowledge on and educate others.
From YHP’s inception at the History Matters Conference in 2014, its members have aimed to embody this teaching and through the Schools Programme, for instance, we have demonstrated how far we have been successful.
We engineered workstations to illustrate the different activities YHP members do as historians. I personally led the interview station, students were provided with transcripts from oral history interviews. Students were given the task to assess them as interviewers and as historians. As interviewers, they were able to come up with follow-up questions and to tailor questions so they could be asked in a sensitive manner. Social history relies on personal experience, and in our project we deal with topics such as racism, sexism and memories of childhood. Taking on the role of historians, the students were able to dissect the value of the transcripts and justify the importance of storing them at the Black Cultural Archives. The history of black African women in the U.K. in the 20th century has largely been neglected, an oversight which YHP aims to rectify.
I also gave the students practical experience with the camera equipment by giving them the chance to hold mock interviews. YHP has allowed me to gain technical skills which are necessary for recording social history.
YHP member, Aleja, guided students through a workstation focused on the wider context and social policies which impacted the womens’ experiences in a broader sense. In particular, the material focused on how legislation interacted with the experiences of black migrants.
The starting point was the docking of SS Empire Windrush in 1948, an event popularly remembered as the turning point in the presence of African Caribbean migrants in Britain. on a large scale. Aleja utilised primary sources such as photos taken from seminal/iconic moments in Black British history and asked students to describe their observations, and if they could recognise any of the figures or places. These included photos of the arrival of SS Windrush, Notting Hill Race Riots and Malcolm X’s visit to Smethwick in 1965. Written sources were given out in parallel, namely parliamentary acts concerning immigration from 1919 - 2010. This encouraged students to look at the various twists and turns in immigration narrative, and to consider state and non-state perspectives on migration. Other primary source material included a statement taken from the Notting Hill Riot and an excerpt from the 1965 Race Relations Act. We encouraged the students to actively ask and answer questions like historians and to infer the ways in which these events would have impacted African women in Britain.
Fellow YHP member, Olivia, led a station that focused on primary source materials such as: newspaper clippings, political cartoons and photographs from the 1940s-1960s. The sources presented the various experiences of African nurses in healthcare; from horrific treatment experienced by Black people in 20th century Britain, exampled by events such as the Notting Hill riots and the colour bar, to photographs of Nigerian Princess Ademola appearing to form friendships with her colleagues during her training as a nurse at Guys Hospital during the Second World War. The sources reflected the experiences described by our interviewees, as many recalled instances of racism as well as support from their colleagues and supervisors. Students were able to draw on their skills to analyse unfamiliar material.
We ended the day with reflections from the students about the history which had been explored throughout the day. To fully engage the students we used creative methods such as spoken word, rap, poems, drawing, collage and more. We also recorded oral reflections on the day. This session resulted in honest, touching and impactful pieces of work that provided insight into how the students responded to a practical workshop.
The day brought hope for what YHP could do in the future and the impact it could make on students to get them interested in history. As a group, we hope that YHP will provide an avenue for people to learn more about black history from a younger age.