Black History Workshop at Queen's College in Westminster
This past June, the Young Historians Project visited Queen's College in Westminster to deliver an afternoon workshop on ‘A Hidden History: African Women and the British Health Service’ to a hall of Year 9 students. We highly anticipated teaching this group, as many of the students had little to no experience learning about Black history. The day served as an introduction to our latest research and documentary, as well as a general taster to wider themes involving Black British history. We also explored primary source materials and introduced students to important historical terms such as the ‘colour bar’ and the concept of oral history.
The image above captures a paper handout annotated by a student during the workshop.
We kicked off the workshop with a discussion on the definition of oral history and asked the students for their thoughts on how best to conduct and record oral histories. The students then watched clips from the YHP interviews with Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and Lucia Msika from our latest documentary film. Anionwu and Msika explained what led them to a career in health care, and shared stories from their childhoods in Britain and South Africa respectively. The students reflected on pieces from the interviews that stood out to them and how it made them feel. They gave interesting and thoughtful answers, ranging from the sense of awe they had for the resilience of the women, to ideas around how immigrants experience new countries. Many completed the bonus task, which was to think of questions to ask Anionwu and Msika if they had the chance to interview them. Their questions included “What would you do if you weren’t a nurse?” and "What has been your favourite part of your career?” Listening to the stories of Black nurses and learning about the NHS through the lens of race and gender proved to be a valuable experience for the students. It raised discussions around encouraging the students to carry out research themselves by speaking to elders in their community and families.
The image above captures some feedback notes and reflections written by Queen's College students.
The next activity was a primary source analysis. The students read and dissected the meaning of political cartoons from the 1950s and 1960s which were published by The Sunday Express and London Evening Standard. We had a conversation on how to analyse and try to understand these sources – asking the students 'What can we infer from this source about Black people’s experiences working in the health service?' and 'What do you think the creator of the cartoon is trying to say?' The students discussed amongst themselves in small groups and shared their ideas with the hall, before we gave detailed explanations and the wider historical context behind the cartoons. This activity was a fun and interesting way to remind the students of how diverse people's interpretations of primary sources can be.
Finally, we ended the workshop with a quiz based on the new information the students had learned. It also included questions on general Black British history and the NHS. It was an exciting and competitive experience which all the students were invested in. Our tie breaker question was ‘What country was Princess Tshai Haile Selassie from?’ This led to a huge eruption of cheers and celebration for the student who was first to guess ‘Ethiopia.’
Overall, the workshop was really fulfilling and an indication of how enriching and important teaching Black British history in schools is. YHP will continue to provide avenues for people to learn more about this history and we look forward to our next workshop!