Huw Edwards set to tell The Story of Wales

BBC Cymru is kicking off 2012 with a landmark television series telling the story of Wales, from pre-history to modern times. The Story of Wales, a six-part series, will be presented by BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards.

The series starts with a reconstruction of the earliest known human burial in Western Europe – the “Red Lady” of Paviland, 29,000 years ago and goes right through to present day devolution.

Sound interesting? Well, that’s not all. St Fagans National History Museum is offering a day of exclusive preview screenings and special workshops relating to the new series. The event is open to everyone and will take place on Thursday 19 January between 10.30am – 3pm. For more information visit St Fagans website.

What a great way to start the New Year!


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Festive quiz time

Had a lazy Christmas filled with copious amounts of turkey and chocolate? Yes, me too. Well here’s a quiz, courtesy of History Today, to get the old brain working again…

10 questions to answer. Ready, steady, go!

The History Quiz

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Does Downton Abbey need to get its facts straight?

Downton Abbey has certainly been a hit with the viewers. It’s had impressive ratings and filled many column inches with its rave reviews from the critics. However, it would appear there’s one person that won’t be adding the box set
to her wish list, and that’s editor of Family History Monthly magazine,
Jennifer Newbury.

Following the eagerly anticipated Christmas special of the award-winning ITV series, the historian spoke out about the inaccuracies of the show which made it ‘infuriating to watch.’ According to Jennifer, the servants look too clean and the portrayal of the relationship they have with their employers is completely wrong.

Researching for her new book, Women’s Lives, has meant Jennifer has read hundreds of letters and diaries from those working in service and also those of the families they worked for.

Though I am by no means an expert, during my own history studies I came to focus on the experiences of women during the early modern period. This often meant examining a variety of sources to gain an understanding of how women of all classes, though especially those working in service, lived. Many of the stories of servants were actually quite harrowing, so I fully appreciate where Jennifer is coming from. However, I still can’t help but like the show.

Just for fun, I took to Twitter to run a quick poll to see whether these inaccuracies in historical television programmes or films hinders your enjoyment. The overwhelmingly majority of people said that it didn’t. One tweeter said, “Give credit to people. They’re aware it’s not totally accurate but people aren’t looking for a history lesson.” Another said, “I think viewers enjoy the romantic side of history. It might be inaccurate but it’s enjoyable.”

There were of course exceptions to the rule, with some people saying there needs to be a level of responsibility with historical programmes, and they need to be properly researched. I dare say Downton Abbey was researched. Yes, there are instances where a visible satellite dish or double yellow lines on the road don’t exactly set the scene, but I must be honest, I’m not sure it would have quite the same effect if the servants were looking like they needed a good bath.

I believe people enjoy Downton Abbey in the same way they enjoy Jane Austen, because it’s an insight into a world a million miles away from our own – it’s romantic escapism.

Whether you’re a Downton fan or not, the series has undoubtedly raised the profile of history. It’s aroused an interest in the past and how people lived, and I think that can only be a good thing.

I’ll leave you with the preview for the Christmas special.


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An early Christmas present from History Today

As 2011 comes to an end, here’s a generous offer from History Today, to
look back at a selection of their articles from print and online over the past 12 months.

My favourite is the Victorian jokes.

Happy Christmas!

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South Wales: getting kids hooked on history

History education is in the news again. This time leading historian, Sir David Cannadine, has argued that history should be studied as a core subject at school until the age of 16.

It’s all appearing rather doom and gloom, with his assertion that the UK are falling behind the rest of Europe as history is only compulsory until 14. However, unlike England, Wales is seeing an increase in pupils opting for the subject at GCSE level and South Wales has a thriving historical scene.

With this in mind, how is South Wales encouraging the younger generation to take an interest in history, be it in or out of the classroom? And perhaps more importantly, how successful is this?

Jo Bowers was a primary school teacher for 20 years and is now senior lecturer in education at UWIC. She said, “It’s essential that history in school excites, engages and stimulates children. The important thing for us as teachers is to ignite that interest in research and in finding out.”

While Jo concedes there is no official research to back this up, from her experience of training teachers, the two factors she says her students attribute to making history interesting for them at school was the teacher and the trips – the going out and seeing places.

Below are some thoughts on history from students

A primary school pupil enjoys dressing up in Victorian costume

A teacher makes a subject

They say a teacher can make a subject, and for a memorable teacher look no further than David Perkins, Head of History at Duffryn High School in Newport. David hit the headlines back in October for his rather unique way of engaging his pupils in history – by making YouTube videos of himself dressed as various historical characters. So far ASDA wigs, pipe cleaners and other such make-dos have seen him take on the role of Martin Luther, the 1066 contenders to the throne and a corrupt friar.

According to David, the videos took shape when his friend downloaded a movie making app on his iPhone. So does he think this use of social media has helped to engage his pupils? “You can see they’re enjoying it because it’s something different. In history we’re really lucky we’ve got the opportunity to do that in every lesson we teach, because that’s the type of subject it is. I’m not really sure how you would do it in maths, unless you pretend to be Pythagoras or something,” he laughs.

David admits it’s not always easy getting pupils interested in history but that’s when you bring the creative element in to find a way of inspiring them. Today for example, the classroom floor is scattered with coloured shiny wrappers as Year 7 are learning about the feudal system. David explains he chose a boy whose birthday is coming up and gave him a box of roses – instantly getting the attention of the whole class. The boy needs to pick five friends to share the chocolate with, but then there are still too many chocolates so he has to pick another five. A tasty way of demonstrating how William the Conqueror divided up the land of England.  “Next time I see them I can ask them what the feudal system was and they’ll be able to tell me,” he says.

Outside of the classroom

South Wales appears to be brimming with historical attractions.  Jo explains, “I know for teachers in this area it’s very rich in opportunity for out of school learning, from the Roman Legion Museum to the Big Pit and Tredegar House. You can’t access it all really, there’s just so much.”  St Fagans is probably one of the best places you can go to access the whole range of history from the Celtic Village to the Victorian school house,” she continues.

In fact, for Jo it was working on an exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, dressed up as a 12th century nun to run workshops for children, that made her realise she wanted to teach.

One place committed to increasing accessibility for young people is the Glamorgan Archives.Archivist Heather Mountjoy explained they have a lot of school visits, particularly primary schools, where the children are very enthusiastic and inquisitive. They study the Victorians covering the rich lords to the working family, considering what it was like for children at their age. Heather said, “I think if children can relate to other children in the past, it really makes the history come alive for them.”

Below is an interview with archivist, Heather Mountjoy

The Glamorgan Archives actively encourage children to visit and take a tour

Children also experience a behind the scenes tour to read the temperatures in the strongrooms, and visit the conservation studio to see how documents
are repaired.

And it’s not just the school kids that think the archives are cool. Only this year a group of media students from Glamorgan University teamed up with the archives and Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown to produce a film about the history of Cardiff Bay; part of a parliamentary outreach project.

The Cardiff Story Museum, which opened in April, is the latest historical offering to grace Cardiff and the first to tell the history of the city. The museum is full of exhibitions and interactive activities to really stimulate students of all ages. From dressing up as an evacuee to the interactive rationing challenge, there is a vast quantity of material to engage with.

Learning co-ordinator, Rachel Carney, explained it’s not just about children paying a visit to the museum but developing skills to perhaps work on their
own projects.

Children can dress up as Victorians or evacuees at The Cardiff Story Museum

The Cardiff Story Museum also offers a wide range of interactive activities

So is seems South Wales is pulling out all the stops to ensure history stays firmly in the present.

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Enjoy a historical December

I thought it would be nice to do a round-up of some history related happenings in December, for those of you who fancy something a bit different. Here are my top five:

1.) A Tudor Holiday
3-4 December

Want to know what it was like to live five hundred years ago at the time of the Tudors? If so, be sure to visit St Teilo’s Church this weekend where you can hear and discuss what the December holidays were like for the Tudors. St Teilo’s Church is part of St Fagans Museum, which really does put on some fantastic events and exhibitions.

The Tudor era is undoubtedly my favourite period of history. I find everything about it fascinating and I don’t doubt this event will give a real flavour of what life was like back in those times. For event details visit the St Fagans website

For more information about St Teilo’s click here

2.)  Caerphilly Medieval Christmas Fayre
10-11 December

Caerphilly was a traditional market town and this festive event will feature 100 market stalls, giving you the opportunity to buy a variety of local produce. Historical highlights of the event include a medieval magician and jester, as well as 25 stalls within the walls of the castle itself. For opening times, directions and any other practical details, see the Visit Caerphilly website

3.)  Roald Amundsen Exhibition
28 Nov-18 Dec

The Norweigan Church, in Cardiff Bay, is celebrating 100 years since Roald Amundsen’s journey to the South Pole with Cold Recall: Reflections of a Polar Explorer. This photo exhibit will feature images from the lantern slides used by Amundsen in his talks and public lectures. This unique exhibit is on loan from Norway’s Fram Museum so be sure to catch it while it’s in town. For further details about the exhibit and the Norweigan Church can be found here.

4.)  So this is Christmas?
10 December

Discover how Christmas was celebrated in the past at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon. Explore the customs and traditions of mid-winter festivals, including those of the Romans and Vikings. There are a range of activities as well as mulled wine and mince pies. For more information about the museum visit the Museum Wales website. Event details can be found here.

5.)  Llandaff Ghost Walk Christmas Special
30 December

The 2011 ghost season is now over but you have one last chance for a historical scare before the new year is in. The evening begins with dinner at Mulberry Street restaurant, and after some mulled wine to settle your nerves, you’ll head out on the ghost walk. Llandaff is brimming with history, a lot of which is dominated by tragedy and disaster  – perfect for tales and hauntings. Tickets are going fast so be sure to book in plenty of time. More details can be found here.

I hope this has given you a taster of what’s on offer over the coming weeks. If you make it to any of these events then please let me know how you get on, or better yet, post your own suggestions of events you think might be of interest to fellow history lovers.



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Is history engaging the minds of the future?

Over the last few years there seems to have been endless debates over the teaching of history in schools. Last year a host of well-known historians criticised the syllabus content and quality of recruited teachers. Most recently David Cannadine has claimed history should be a compulsory subject, taught in schools until the age of 16.

There’s a young teacher in Newport who’s taken to making YouTube videos of himself as various characters in history, in an attempt to get students engaged with the subject. I thought this was really innovative and it got me thinking about the ways history can, and should, be made fun and enjoyable.

With this in mind, I want to address how South Wales is encouraging the younger generation to take an interest in history. What’s on offer and is it working?

I hope to speak with a variety of different people, from local museums to schools and universities, and most importantly – the younger generation themselves.

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