As a first-time visitor to Coalbrookdale, I could’ve been mistaken for Owen Wilson, considering how many times I said, “wow.” I mean, who knew that Ironbridge is so much more than literally just an iron bridge? Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Ironbridge Gorge museum network is actually comprised of ten separate heritage sites, including the Blists Hill Victorian Town, the Coalport China Museum, and the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, where I spent the majority of my far-too-short time in Shropshire.
Set upon the grounds which served as the birthplace of industry, the Museum of Iron illustrates the lives and work of the family of Abraham Darby. As a staunch Quaker, studying and developing the craft of a skilled tradesman was an obvious path for Abraham Darby. Darby’s notoriety surpassed that of an ordinary artisan, however, when he perfected a method of smelting iron in a blast furnace which was fueled by coke as opposed to charcoal.
Whereas charcoal tended to be both time-consuming and fragile, coke expedited the smelting process and made the production of iron more cost-effective. Darby’s ingenuity not only enabled the mass production of iron goods, which were intricate in detail, solidly forged, and exported worldwide, but, moreover, established Coalbrookdale as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
Admittedly, I knew very little about Coalbrookdale prior to my visit, but after driving past the Abraham Darby Academy and the Abraham Darby Sports and Leisure Centre, I felt it was safe to assume that the men who bore the name were a pretty big deal. What I did not anticipate, however, was how important women were in securing Abraham Darby’s place in history. In the Quaker faith and in the Darby family business, regardless of any legislative factors, men and women were acknowledged as equal, which offered all individuals access to the same educational and employment opportunities. As this is a history blog rather than a political rant, I shall continue onward, with no further comments or comparisons.
So, women. Yes, as early as 1709, women of all ages labored in warehouses and mines. Women combed the pit banks and mine shafts for fragments of iron and transported them to the production site. Moreover, upon the death of Abraham Darby III in 1789, women even ran the Coalbrookdale Company. As there were no male heirs of age to fulfill management roles, Abraham’s sister, Sarah Darby, supervised (and might I add, expertly so) all matters of business alongside her sister, Mary Rathbone, and her brother’s widows, Rebecca and Deborah. At all levels, the intelligent and hardworking women of Ironbridge Gorge advanced the company’s operations and profits, and by 1880, ten percent of the Coalbrookdale Company’s payroll were female. Women filling the rank and file of a sector that can only be described as a “boys’ club” is impressive as is, but in nineteenth-century terms, it’s extraordinary. In fact, it was during the reign of the Darby women that Cornwall-based engineer Richard Trevithick came to understand that only the talented artisans in Coalbrookdale could aid him in carrying out his vision of the world’s first railway steam locomotive.
Strolling on the green and listening as the clocktower still chimes every hour on the hour, viewing the Darby Family’s original furnace, which remains preserved upon the property and dating back to 1638 (Fun Fact: It’s historical significance has been awarded Grade I Listed status), and touring the Darby family houses, situated atop the hill alongside the workers’ quarters really puts into perspective both the massive scale of the family’s iron-making operation and its commitment to the Ironbridge Gorge community. For less casual history buffs, the Coalbrookdale Research Library and Archive house rich primary resources, including personal diaries, private correspondence, photographic collections, and local ephemera which reinforce the region’s importance in the Industrial Revolution.
Maybe you’re thinking that all of this information is overwhelming or maybe I still haven’t sold you on exactly how interesting iron can be. If you’re unsure of where to start, go online and plan your visit or reach out to one of the many lovely people who strive to preserve these important historical sites. During my time in Coalbrookdale, I didn’t encounter a single soul who wasn’t willing to answer my questions or point me in the direction of a good cup of coffee. If the latter is holding you back from planning a visit to Ironbridge Gorge, I can promise you that the region has something to offer everyone. Just to reiterate, the area has ten historical sites. Ten. So just trust me.
In order to improve relations with the Old Operating Theatre for future collaborations regarding the Surgical Revolution and to promote the Age of Revolutions project to Schools around the UK, Amelia and I were sent to London to assist in a GCSE revision Bootcamp for the ‘Medicine Through Time’ module currently studied in GCSE History. The day began rather early, as we boarded our train to St. Pancras at 7:00 am!
Ben and I, as student ambassadors representative of the Age of Revolutions Project, were keen to make a good impression. Although a while since our own GSCE days, Ben himself had done the same ‘Medicine Through Time’ module at GCSE and we had both recently studied ‘Surgery, Science and Society from 1750’ here at the University of Kent. This reassured us we would be beneficial in our duties of assisting and encouraging the students throughout the day.
The session began with an informative introductory lecture from Julie, explaining the events to follow. This enabled us to gain insight into the students current level of understanding. A short game was then conducted by Hailey and Gareth to motivate the students to really get involved!
Structurally the bootcamp was ordered chronologically, literally going through medicine throughout time, categorising topics into various themes, including key figures to remember and any revolutionary aspects. Julie, Hailey and Gareth would lead the first half of each topic, giving a lecture and presentation detailing all the relevant information. Myself and Ben then got involved in the second part of each session. This was predominantly based on source analysis, as a segment of the GCSE paper requires students to analyse the given source and create their own historical question from their analysis and knowledge.
The sources varied in form, including diary entries, paintings, quotes and photographs. The students were very receptive in their analysis and were eager to discuss the sources and with both each other and Ben and I. There was a mixed bag in terms of student confidence, evident when discussing the imminence of the exam. Despite trying to wrap my head around the newly updated numerical grading system, it was obvious to see that the bootcamp was proving beneficial to all.
In-between topics the students were given refreshment breaks with a lovely selection of food and drink, allowing for a mental rest and a (hopeful) restocking of energy and enthusiasm for medicine! This was encouraged by a range of medical related sweets, courtesy of the Old Operating Theatre.
The students were open to converse about each topic, and noticeably as the day went on, why myself and Ben were there, what we were doing at university and how our own GCSE experiences went. Explaining the Age of Revolutions project, our objectives and roles within, seemed a pleasant distraction for the students, who after 6 hours of revision were getting restless!
In addition to allowing the students a break, discussing the project allowed us to promote the work we were doing to the students, with some even asking for the links to the projects website so they could see for themselves. Finally, we ensured the students they would be fine if they revised and stayed calm and it was time for myself and Ben to leave.
At the end of the session, there was lots of great feedback from the students and I left wishing I’d had the opportunity to attend a revision bootcamp in my GCSE days. Admittedly I wouldn’t say no to the University setting up something similar for my own upcoming exams!
We would like to say a big thank you to Julie, Hailey and Gareth on behalf of the Age of Revolution Project for organising and hosting the bootcamp and for allowing us to be part of the experience.
The Royal Green Jackets Museum is one of several military museums at the former Peninsula Barracks in the historic city of Winchester. The museum chronicles the story of the famous Royal Green Jackets from their beginnings in the mid 18th century, through to the amalgamation into The Rifles today. Boasting an impressive collection of artefacts, the museum captivates the imagination and showcases military history in an impressive way.
On the 17th of April 2019, myself and two other ambassadors, Rory and Arlo, travelled to Winchester and met outside the impressive Peninsula Barracks. Winchester itself is a gorgeous city, rich with medieval buildings, a bustling high street, and a very impressive cathedral. It was a shame that my time in Winchester was limited, although now it is certainly a place to revisit over the summer! We soon made our way through the gates of the barracks and into the museum and were welcomed by the museum’s curator, Christine Pullen. We were then left to our own devices to wander through the museum at our own leisure. There were many uniforms, weapons, and other items of significance in the museum, and the Brown Bess musket and Baker Rifle that you were able to pick up and feel certainly fulfilled many a childhood fantasy! The most impressive exhibition in the museum was the gigantic 25 square meter Waterloo diorama, complete with over 30,000 figures. Taking a bird’s eye approach to one of the most famous battles of the period, the diorama walks visitors through the Battle of Waterloo in painstaking detail. The Age of Revolutions period is covered very well, and aims to tell visitors the role that the Royal Green Jackets, then the rifle regiments in the British Army, played. From Copenhagen to Spain, the impact of these men in their famous green jackets was clear. The museum goes further, though, exploring the Royal Green Jackets’ role in the colonial wars of the later 19th century, and the regiment’s contributions to the First and Second World War, and the campaigns that followed.We had visited the museum as part of the project’s military history aspect, and the Royal Green Jackets Museum is one of several museums that ambassadors will be visiting, or indeed have already visited, over the next couple of weeks. The other museums are the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment at Dover Castle, the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum at Caernarfon Castle, and the Highlanders Museum in Fort George. The aim of the project is to create a pop-up exhibition to be displayed in the museums, highlighting the role the British Army played in this period, with a particular emphasis on the Napoleonic Wars. The exhibition hopes to ‘fill in the blanks’, so to speak, with what the current museums offer with regards to Napoleonic history, exploring the history of recruitment for the British Army among other aspects. As a military history student at the University of Kent, it is sad to see that the school curriculums never seem to truly tackle military history, and so the project hopes to introduce this vital aspect of the Age of Revolutions back into schools.
The museum has great potential for the Age of Revolutions Project, and the staff seemed enthusiastic for the future. It will be interesting to see how the project can expand upon the museum’s rich exhibitions. I would like to convey my thanks to Christine, the museum’s curator, for her warm welcome.
London Victoria is tourist central. The station itself easily boasts more fast food outlets than platforms whilst also being within walking distance of famous London landmarks like Buckingham Palace, St James Park and 10 Downing Street. If you find yourself in need of a model of Big Ben or an insatiable desire for a cuddly beefeater, then this is the place to come. However, myself and Ben were not here to see the sites. We were on more important business.
Courtesy of the Old Operating Theatre, we were on our way to represent the Age of Revolution project at a revision session for GCSE students studying Medicine Through Time. Hopefully, the new skills we had acquired through A-Levels and University would be put to good use helping the students improve their analytical skills.
I must admit to feeling slightly nervous as we approached the venue. It feels five minutes since I myself completed GCSEs; the thought of lecturing others on how to improve their skills seemed strange, almost laughable.
‘What happens if they think we’re students?’ I asked Ben. ‘How do we prove we’re not?’
As it happens, those fears were immediately expunged upon entering the room. It was full of teenage girls, seated quietly below the dais, listening to the introductory lecture. I relaxed slightly. It was exceedingly unlikely that any of the organizers were likely to mistake either Ben or I for participants!
The structure of the event was simple. The course was divided up into various sections, based either on period or theme. The students spent thirty minutes on each section which was itself divided into a lecture to revise the basic facts and a discussion period where various sources were analysed. There were also frequent breaks to refresh both mind and body, which stopped the students from losing too much focus. The source section was where Ben and I swung into action, roaming around the room attempting to broaden and improve the students understanding and analytical skills.
The discussions were generally lively and showed a good understanding of both the periods under discussion and a broad range of analytical techniques. We were ourselves subjected to a detailed interrogation: how old were we, where were we from, what were we doing here? Ben and I tried to answer these questions as best we could whilst trying to make sure conversation didn’t get too off topic!
Five minutes before the end, the organizers allowed us to give a short talk on the Age of Revolution project which we used to spread the word about the projects aims and achievements. The students seemed interested although this may have been simply relief that their ordeal was almost at an end! With that the day ended, with the students departing for their homes and Ben and I for the tube in a successful attempt to beat the rush hour throng.
Ben and I would like to thank Julie, Gareth and Hailey for both inviting us to the session and to the Age of Revolution project for providing us with the opportunity. Thanks again for allowing us to take part.
On Thursday 24th January we held a meeting for existing student ambassadors and welcomed our new recruits! This gave us a chance to network and chat about events that had taken place so far, including the ‘Beyond the Barricade‘ exhibition held at Studio 3. We had a presentation from Dr Ben Marsh, to discuss exciting events coming up and get involved with.
Ralph Roberts talked about workshops that had taken place at the Bowes museum, County Durham.
We had an update from Kesia Wills and Jasmin Hart about their initial visit to the site of the Peterloo Massacre, and the upcoming workshops that will be taking place with Manchester Histories. With an update from Dr Marsh regarding the work-in-progress on the Graphic Novel, and the schools edition that will be produced – more to follow on this!
Jessie Concannon, Jonathan Burton and Ben Bradley shared their experiences when they visited the Old Operating Theatre, and with their participation at the ‘Up Close and Medical’ event held at the British Dental Association – which provided an excellent networking opportunity. GCSE revision workshops will be taking place soon at the Old Operating Theatre – so watch out for an update on these!
Other projects and collaborations discussed were:
Regimental Museums including Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Museum, Royal Greenjackets, Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, Cornwall’s Regimental museum/
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
Ironbridge and New Lanark
Watch this space for the latest news and updates………………
Back in June, I wrote a blog for the Age of Revolution project that detailed my visit to the Bowes Museum in County Durham. The Bowes Museum is one of the University of Kent’s partner locations, and part of its collection is a series of painting, prints, and objects related to Napoléon and the Napoleonic era. During my first visit I met with the museum’s Education Co-ordinator, Julia Dunn, to devise a workshop that could be delivered at Bowes for upper key stage 2 and lower key stage 3 children (approximate ages 10-12). It was hoped that we could develop a workshop that encouraged children to think about who Napoléon was and why he was an important figure, as well as to give them an opportunity to express themselves artistically using Napoleonic imagery as an inspiration. Early in November, I got the opportunity to return to the museum to see the first of these workshops in action – I was very excited to see the fruits of our labour! The workshops were led by Julia, while I was there to observe and to assist if necessary.
Upon arrival, the children were asked to colour in the French Tricolore, and to note what they already knew about Napoléon in the middle band. In most instances, this was limited to the fact that he was French, with a reasonable number of children having some awareness that he was a military figure. In short, the vast majority knew only some basic facts about Napoléon. This was perfectly understandable – I doubt that I even had that knowledge of Napoléon at age 11! It also offered a good opportunity to gauge how much the children had learned at the end of the day, to see what resonated with them and how effective the workshop had been. Interestingly, a few of them stated that he was short, which provides an example of how pervasive the myth of a diminutive Napoléon is! Once we had some idea of what the children knew about the subject, it was time to head to the galleries to begin a journey into the life of “Little Corporal”, led by Julia dressed as a “French wench” (her term, not mine, I hasten to add!).
The first stop was the John and Joséphine gallery on the first floor of the museum, which is dedicated to the founders of the museum, John and Joséphine Bowes. Before learning about Napoléon himself, the children were able to find out why there was a museum in Barnard Castle that had some pictures and objects related to a French political and military leader. It helped to provide context for the children’s visit to the Bowes Museum, and to give an indication that Napoléon’s importance and influence is widespread, including within the United Kingdom. As an aside, one of the rooms in this part of the museum contains a fabulous series of paintings by Nicholas Gabé based on the French Revolution of 1848. Though not a particularly well-known artist, Gabé captures the spirit of the subject brilliantly: his work The Barricade at Porte St Denis, Paris 1848 evokes comparison with Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, with a fearless woman leading the revolutionaries amid a pitched battle. Well worth a look if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Bowes Museum!
After learning about the museum’s founders, it was time for the children to enter the open space of the picture galleries to trace the life and career of Napoléon Bonaparte. The children were given a biographical overview of his life and times, and Julia chose some of the children to portray the key figures in the narrative. Thus, we had a Carlo and a Letizia as Napoléon’s parents, and subsequently one pupil was transformed into Napoléon, complete with military jacket, bicorne, and sabre! The first focus of Napoléon’s military career was his campaign in Italy, and specifically in Venice, as the museum’s possession of Canaletto’s Regatta on the Grand Canal provided a fantastic backdrop to the tale of Napoléon’s plundering of Venice and his denudation of the Bucintoro, the Doge’s ceremonial barge visible in the painting. Having a visual aid such as this was useful in helping the children understand that Napoléon’s ventures were on a grand scale and involved traveling to distant places to achieve his goals. To get a sense of this aspect of travel, the children marched, led by their Napoléon, into the next gallery, chanting the revolutionary slogan of Vive la France as they went. It was quite a sight to behold, and one hopes we haven’t planted any ideas in their heads should the political climate remain unstable in 10-15 years’ time!
Having finished their brief march, the children were greeted by the grand image of Napoléon as Emperor, one of Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson’s 26 identical portraits. With the aid of copies of some of the nineteenth-century prints held in the museum’s archive, the children were given an overview of the 17 years from Napoléon’s coronation in 1804 to his death on St Helena in 1821. It is to Julia’s credit that she was able to give the children a sense of this in one morning session, given that many historians have written entire books about this period and have still acknowledged that much more is to be said. The children were given a sense that fortunes can change in a short space of time, hence why Napoleon was able to return for his “hundred days” before being defeated at Waterloo and exiled on a remote island where any possibility of return was eliminated. At the end of the morning session, students were given the chance to sketch something from the gallery, related to Napoleon, to use for a printing exercise in the afternoon. It was fascinating to see what resonated with different individuals: whereas some were taken with the figure of Napoléon himself, others preferred more natural images such as a boat on the ocean, similar to one that would have taken Napoléon to his final resting place.
After lunch, Julia led a discussion on what the children thought might have happened had Napoléon been able to launch a successful invasion of Britain and incorporate it into his empire. This encouraged children to think about what it might have been like to live in a state occupied by Napoléon, and to consider how our own national history has been shaped by the fact that this did not occur. While counterfactuals are contentious in academic history, for students of this age it was ideal for encouraging critical thinking about the importance of events and how our modern world is shaped by causality. One pupil in the first group made the link between Napoléon’s endeavours and the subsequent world wars, and how the Europe that Napoléon left behind was influenced by him and how it might have altered had he been able to invade Britain. For somebody 10-11 years old, this was a fantastic point to make, and is a testament to how Julia’s engagement with the topic had influenced the children in attendance. The discussions also brought up other questions about what it means to be British, and how these things might be affected by a figure such as Napoléon. It was great to hear the students come up with abstract ideas based on a topic that most knew very little about beforehand, and that is a testament to Julia’s delivery, the skills they have developed in their schools, and their own natural inquisitiveness.
Before the final activity, the students were asked to write down everything they could remember from the workshops, so that we could compare what they knew by the end of the session with what they knew coming into it. Most of the children were able to recall a good number of details about Napoléon’s life, with those pertaining to his family and their roles in developing and maintaining the Empire being commonly recalled. The children wrote their recollections on the back of the flags they’d made earlier – in many instances they were running out of room due to how much they’d remembered! It was certainly pleasing for Julia, their teachers, and myself to see how much they’d learned over the course of the day.
The sessions concluded with a printing exercise, whereby the children copied their drawings from the galleries onto a polystyrene plate and used paint and rollers to transpose the images onto paper that they could hang up in their classrooms at a later date, if desired. The children enjoyed the activity, and it was certainly beneficial to break up the historical elements with some practical activities. The children all produced fantastic images in the end, even those that were stuck with someone as unartistic as I am to supervise! Hopefully the finished prints have served as a fond memento of the day for all the children involved.
To summarise, it was fantastic to be able to return to the Bowes Museum and witness the workshops take place, and I am grateful to the University of Kent for enabling me to go back. I would like to thank Julia Dunn for shaping and delivering the workshops, and for making them a success for the Age of Revolution project. The feedback from both schools involved was fantastic: both schools rated the workshop as “excellent”, and the teachers were pleased with the variety of activities available to the children and the enthusiasm with which they were delivered. Most of the children that attended had never been to the Bowes Museum before, so it is wonderful that the Age of Revolution project has enabled them to visit this wonderful location and see the art and the artefacts first-hand. I’m glad to say that our collaboration with the Bowes Museum is not over: we are currently planning outreach and digital elements to this project, to be developed and delivered in the first quarter of next year. I am very much looking forward to working with Julia and her colleagues on these aspects of the project; another Kent student, Will Jarvis, will be involved, and we’re both looking forward to what we can achieve in partnership with the Bowes Museum. If we can hit the same heights as the workshops have, I should think we’ll all be delighted!
I think it’s fair to say that London is not at its best in late Autumn. The weather’s cold, the sky’s grey and the air’s damp, three things hardly calculated to show the city off to it’s best. Yet on the 27th October myself, Becky and Jessie, ably assisted by Becky’s daughter Jasmine decided to brave the capital’s cold climate to attend an event held by the British Dental Association to represent the Age of Revolution project.
The object of the event was to help the public (particularly children) engage with medical history. Hence the fact that as well as our good selves, there were representatives from a variety of museums present as well; some representing a specific subject like the Royal College of Nursing or the Florence Nightingale Museums whilst others were more general such as the Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection. All these museums had a variety of great objects that you could pick up and handle, ranging from cake stands made by mental health patients to old surgical instruments used for a variety of gory operations. Hence a further reason for our attendance; not only were we their to spread the word about the project but also to spy out any useful objects to further our online collection. Our task: to sweet talk the museums present to try and persuade them to engage with the project.
As it turned out, the task was far easier than I had anticipated. Jessie, Becky and I found the various collections eager to help and we made lots of useful contacts. Seven-year-old Jasmine also played a key role, handing out leaflets in between collecting stickers from the various stands. I was particularly keen to engage with the Old Operating Theatre, as I’m hopefully going to be working with them to produce some short educational videos. Therefore, I was eager to see if they had any artefacts that could be used to give the videos some visual stimulus.
The staff were very obliging and showed me a range of relevant objects; particularly intriguing was the drill used for trepanning, which in simple terms means drilling into somebody’s skull to relieve the pressure or to release evil spirits. How anybody survived having a hole the size of a very large marble being made in the top of their skull is beyond me, although I was assured that the pain was minimal as soon as the surgeon had broken through the skin. I was even more surprised the next day whilst in conversation with a friend of mine who lectures on nursing at Canterbury Christ Church. According to her, they still use very similar equipment in hospitals to this day (although not for releasing evil spirits)!
We kindly invite you to attend the Private View of Beyond the Barricade on 27th of September.
Beyond the Barricade exhibition takes place from 28th of September to 30th of November at Studio 3 Gallery (University of Kent).
With a great honour, Beyond the Barricade has been supported by the nationally funded project, the Age of Revolution, in partnership with Waterloo 200.
Based on the spirit of the French Revolution, Beyond the Barricade brings artists from various nations together to look at different dimensions of revolutions. By documenting past upheavals and recent events, the exhibition aims to present artistic creation as a form of social and political action.
Details of the Private View
Thursday 27 September
Studio 3 Gallery, Jarman Building, The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7UG
-with live performance and live spray painting
-beverage and snacks are provided
Beyond the Barricade highlights
Featuring artists: Thirsty Bstrd, Jimmy Cauty, Daniel Etter, Peihang Huang, Gavin Jantjes, kennardphillipps, Marina Naprushkina, Ahmet Ögüt, Keith Piper, Miss Pokeno, Jamie Reid, Warren Richardson, Francesco Tuccio, Art of Maidan
Various art medium: Painting, Photography, Video, Installation art, Art Prints.
Multiple events: Chalk Movement, Talks, Screenings, School Visit.
Please confirm your attendance of the Private View by clicking RSVP.
We would kindly like to note that the RSVP will be received until 20 September.
For more information, please visit our Facebook page “Beyond the Barricade Exhibition” and Instagram account “beyondthebarricade2018”.
If you have any questions about the event please email email@example.com
From June 18-22, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Bowes Museum to work with the staff there in developing a programme for the Age of revolution project. Having never been to County Durham, or the North East in general, I was taken with the beautiful countryside of Teesdale and the surrounding area – it’s certainly a very scenic part of the United Kingdom! The Bowes Museum itself fits in with the surrounding aesthetic: built in the style of a French chateau, it reminded me somewhat of the Royal Villa in Monza that I visited as part of a University of Kent trip to Italy this past April.
The Bowes Museum was the vision of John and Josephine Bowes, both art lovers who wished to create a museum situated in the North East to house their vast and varied collection of paintings and objects. Though both had died by the time of the museum’s opening in 1892, their vision created a space and a legacy that has lasted to this day, and it is one that continues to develop. Among the museum’s collection is a range of materials relating to Napoleon and Napoleonic Europe, and it is this collection that I sought to view to assist Bowes in developing a project in conjunction with Kent.
On the Monday I met Julia Dunn, Education Co-ordinator at the Bowes Museum and my principal contact prior to my trip up. She gave me a tour of the museum, both on the public side and behind the scenes, to give me an opportunity to view first-hand some of the artwork and artefacts that might form elements of the enterprise, as well as some other interesting items including The Silver Swan, an automaton dating from 1773 that ‘catches’ a fish in a 32-second display! As fascinating as this and other objects/artwork were, I was there to view Napoleonic material, and to this end Bowes has pieces that are just as interesting: I would argue more interesting, and that is not simply because of my own bias! A Staffordshire-made ceramic jug depicting Napoleon made between 1802 and 1810 particularly aroused my interest – why was such an item being made in Britain at this time? Another object with intriguing implications was a French-made snuff box depicting Napoleon dating from the 1830s, perhaps suggesting that the ‘allure of Napoleon’ (to steal the name of an exhibition put on by the museum last year) lasted beyond his fall in 1815, and even his death in 1821.
Over the course of the next few days I met with staff at the Bowes Museum involved in different areas of running the museum, and I began to get a practical sense of how a Napoleon-based project targeted to upper Key Stage 2 and lower Key Stage 3 students might come together. Working with Julia and her team over a series of meetings, we were able to put together the framework of the project at an encouragingly quick rate over the course of the week. To this end Julia and I met with Dr Thomas Stammers of the University of Durham, an expert on French history of the long nineteenth century. Dr Stammers co-curated the ‘Allure of Napoleon’ exhibition at the Bowes, so he is very aware of the nature of the museum’s collection; his advice and expertise were very welcome in helping to formulate our plans going forward. It was a bonus to have this meeting in Durham itself, with the cathedral forming a very pleasant backdrop to a stimulating chat over tea – I’d love to go back soon and have a proper wander!
One of the key challenges that we had to address was considering how to integrate this project within the parameters of the national curriculum; an overwhelming insistence on British-centric history in the curriculum means that we need to ensure that there is a significant British dimension to ensure that the project is sufficiently relevant. One possible method would be to encourage students to think about how they would feel if they were living in Britain when the nation was at war with Napoleon’s empire. Ultimately Napoleonic history is European history, and indeed global history, and it would be remiss to attempt to divide Britain away as a separate entity, despite Napoleon’s own attempts to do so through the Blockade. However, given the nature of the curriculum, it would not be wise to attempt a project that relegates Britain to a secondary position, and great care will be taken to ensure that this is not the case, even though there is plenty about Napoleon’s story that is both fascinating to students and does not involve Britain to any great extent. Still, the game must be played as the rules dictate, and my own snide comments will not change anything! It is certainly different from when I was at school, and there was very little British history on the syllabus at any level – how times have changed!
In order to learn more about what teachers are looking for in a project of this nature, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference for key stage 2 and 3 history teachers at Spennymoor, an opportunity arranged by Julia that I was most grateful for. Speaking to teachers underlined that we had to be sure that the project suited curriculum guidelines – it would not have garnered any interest had we ignored these requirements and planned something that did not directly link to government guidelines for the teaching of history at key stages 2 and 3. In the course of the conference Julia and I spoke to a number of teachers and encouraged some solid interest in our venture, and as a result we have three schools signed up to undertake the workshop and outreach programme this coming autumn. My experiences at the conference underlined how vital it is to talk to professionals in the education sector and to garner their views on the project and the extent to which it complies with the guidelines that they are required to follow. Fortunately, our work during the week meant that we had a proposal strong enough to encourage teachers to sign up, but consultation with them on the day and attending workshops gave us a greater understanding of how to comply with regulations and how the Napoleon project needs to be structured.
Upon returning from the conference on the Friday, I was introduced to a delegation from the Spanish embassy that was visiting Bowes to view the museum’s collection of Spanish paintings. They were embarking on a nationwide project to catalogue Spanish art in British galleries and museums, so the Bowes was an important place to visit given the presence of some Spanish masters’ works in their galleries. The delegation was kind enough to listen to our plans for the Napoleon venture, and indeed they took an interest in it, given Napoleon’s involvement with Spain. It was interesting to get their perspectives given that they had studied Napoleon at school, and it was fascinating to compare the Spanish approach to education – both past and present – with the British. It was also slightly surreal to be included in a picture on their Twitter page, but it’s clear that doing projects like these come with unexpected perks! In all seriousness, it was a pleasure to have met them, and it is always valuable to exchange ideas with as wide a network as possible, and certainly to take advantage of any fortuitous meetings.
Overall, my time at the Bowes Museum was highly productive and was tremendously helpful in terms of visualising the transition from planning to delivering this project centred on Napoleon Bonaparte. By meeting with museum staff, outside experts, and the teachers that will potentially be bringing students to the Bowes, I was able to develop and refine the existing ideas in conjunction with Julia, with whom I feel I developed a very goo working relationship over the course of the week. It was a pleasure to be able to work at the museum; it is a stunning building, and the view from the library on the top floor certainly provided a wonderful aesthetic against which to work. I’m very much looking forward to returning, not only to see more of the North-East but also to see the fruits of our labour! I am very grateful to Julia, and to all of the staff at Bowes, for their help and expertise, and to Dr Stammers for taking the time to meet with me in Durham. It was a fantastic week, and I’d encourage anyone on the Age of Revolution project that’s directly involved with a site to visit and hopefully you will have as varied and as productive a week as I did!
The weblog of the University of Kent's strand of the Waterloo200 Legacy project devoted to teaching and understanding the history of the Age of Revolution