history lessons

Museums and heritage sectors unite to deliver history lessons during school closures

Image: © English Heritage

Organisations including English Heritage, Historic England and Imperial War Museums are spearheading initiatives to ensure the nation has access to history lessons and resources during coronavirus lockdown.

While schools are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, museums and heritage organisations are recalibrating their programming from the traditional in-person visitor focus towards wider online audiences.

English Heritage, for example, has announced a new five-part series of free history lessons throughout April and May, all of which will be hosted by CBBC presenter Ben Shires.

“Normally as term begins, we’d be welcoming thousands of schoolchildren to our historic sites,” notes Dr Dominique Bouchard, English Heritage’s head of learning and interpretation. “Instead we’re now bringing these landmarks to kids at home. Our lessons will bring history to life and help families during this very challenging time.”

Dover Castle is one of many historical sites which feature in English Heritage's new online learning programme © English Heritage

Each 30-minute episode will be made available on English Heritage’s Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch channels, with the presenter joined live by experts from the organisation’s curatorial team.

This is the latest addition to English Heritage’s ‘History at Home’ hub, a new online resource of videos, podcasts, articles and activity sheets to engage the public with history.

Another endeavour to keep Britain historically educated is Dig School. Funded by Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme, the project will see Time Team experts and the Council for British Archaeology joining forces to deliver free online archaeology workshops for teachers and home-schooling families.

The initiative is the brainchild of Professor Carenza Lewis, known for her role in archaeology TV series Time Team and now as Professor for Public Engagement at the University of Lincoln.

“Week by week, students can enjoy developing new ideas, interests, knowledge, and transferrable skills for life and learning, leading up to real excavations,” she explains. “We hope it will help pupils and teachers at this difficult time.”

Professor Carenza Lewis © University of Lincoln

The online materials made available through Dig School include interactive challenges, enquiries, puzzles, games and investigations.

“Learning and discovery is at the heart of archaeology,” says Neil Redfern, executive director at the Council for British Archaeology. “Dig School will ensure that we can find ways to innovate around the current challenges and engage young people of all abilities and backgrounds in archaeology.”

Imperial War Museums is another institution heading up the effort to provide educational support during this difficult time. It has unveiled a range of new digital programming designed to connect isolated families with history resources.

The programme will feature weekly instalments of video content and complementary challenges, games and activities. All of which have been inspired by real life stories and the Imperial War Museums’ diverse collections.

New opportunities to explore the museums’ spaces and historic sites with virtual tours form part of this new frontier, including online access to IWM Duxford’s American Air Museum and the Churchill War Rooms which will be available soon.

TV presenter Ben Shires will be involved in new ventures from both English Heritage and Imperial War Museums © Andy Tatt

“While our doors are temporarily closed, we want to bring IWM’s stories, collections and educational resources to homes everywhere,” notes Susie Thornberry, assistant director of public engagement and learning at Imperial War Museums.

“We believe we are a museum of extraordinary times and, at a time when children are off school and life as we know it is disrupted and uncertain, we hope our new digital programme will give families, teachers and carers a unique way to engage with history.”

Kid’s TV presenter Ben Shires will also be fronting some of IWM’s output, with episodes of the Adventures in History series being uploaded on the museum group’s website and YouTube channel every Wednesday at 2pm. Digital resources made available during lockdown will be tailored to all age ranges and will chart the full breadth of IWM’s collections.