Information for teachers
When we spoke to History teachers during the creation of this website, many were excited by the potential to offer courses on Britain’s migration history but many also felt unsure if they possessed the knowledge or personal experiences necessary to deliver the subject effectively. In direct response to those feelings, this site brings together a number of migration stories, with supporting sources, to make it as easy as possible for you to find material for use with your pupils and to top up your own understanding.
How to use this site in schools
The main information on the site falls under four period headings: AD43-1500; 1500-1750; 1750-1900; 1900-2000s. Each heading features an overview video of a leading historian offering a summary of the major movements of the period. These video overviews are followed by a text summary of other significant events and migrations in the same era. Both the videos and text summaries are presented for use as introductions with pupils and/or to provide you with a sense of the many potential avenues you can explore in the classroom.
The main migration stories that occupy most of the website have been written by our academic contributors. While all feature definitions of difficult vocabulary and generally accessible historical source material, the case study pages use the historians’ own words and therefore may require some scaffolding for some student groups. Although some classes may benefit from exploring the site alone in a computer room or at home, others might benefit from more guided activities structured around the stories on the pages rather than focused solely on the pages' contents themselves. What is most important to stress is that everything on this site exists for your use — it functions as raw material to be adapted, reframed, expanded and remixed in order to best engage the young people you work with.
In line with the requirements of the OCR and AQA GCSE modules on migration to Britain, the optional student activities underneath most case studies on this site seek to stress changes and continuities between different migrant experiences. Each ‘Questions and Student Activities’ section invites pupils to think about similarities and differences between migrant groups, time periods, and, where appropriate, between the time period discussed and our own. To aid your and your pupils’ explorations of these connections, all articles are organised by searchable and clickable topic and continent-of-origin tags. Both options provide alternative ways, besides chronology, to sort and move through the site, and sit alongside a more traditional search field.
Historical Enquiries from Justice to History
In partnership with the organisation Justice to History, this site also features four Historical Enquiries. Designed as four hour-long studies of a group of sources, these exercises invite students to investigate different migration stories to suggest answers to unique thematic questions.
Completing an Enquiry will require your students to use their critical thinking skills, undertake independent research and think deeply about the shared nature of some migrant experiences. Principally focused on work for examinations at age sixteen or above, the Enquiries are nevertheless adaptable for all students and can work as ways into or to conclude a migration study.
Teaching migration history: challenges and opportunities
Migration is, of course, a complicated and divisive topic in contemporary Britain. Often the subject of newspaper articles, shock television coverage, and long scrolls of angry comments online, even the word ‘migrant’ is sometimes used to mean much more than a person who travels from one place to another to continue his or her life (see our definition of migrant/migration here).
All the above might make migration seem like a dangerous topic for the classroom, one that has to be skirted around and touched upon only briefly if at all. While this site offers no specific programme of how, or even what to teach pupils about migration, it was created with the conviction that the centrality of migration to contemporary life makes it more, not less, important to cover in the classroom.
Schools are essential places for pupils to learn about and consider the world in which they live. If we avoid critical engagement with the problems and issues they will encounter in their young adult and adult lives, we can leave young people unprepared for the world that is waiting for them, and the world they currently occupy.
That said, there are many ways difficult subjects can be handled sensitively in the classroom. If there is one general piece of advice it is to set rules and be unafraid of exploring pupils’ views, whatever they may be. The site Moving Here expands this advice into several tips:
- At the beginning of your lesson prepare students for the content they are going to cover.
- Consider setting ground rules with them collaboratively.
- Use inappropriate comments or questions on sources as an opportunity to invite wider opinions and bring the focus back to the context of the lesson.
- Don’t automatically avoid contentious terms – you can make a point of discussing them and pointing out their problems and why people might find them offensive.
- You may find it useful to try and teach students how prejudices and stereotypes develop. Encourage pupils to reflect on experiences where they were singled out or treated unfairly.
- Try and address any frustration or fears that arise within the space of a lesson, potentially structuring activities to explore these responses.
- Make use of personal testimonies, which can help material to feel more relevant to pupils' lives.
The Imperial War Museum's short guide on teaching difficult histories, drawn from their experience teaching the Holocaust and the British Empire, and Oxfam’s pack on why and how to teach controversial issues are other useful resources to help you to refine your own strategies for tackling this material.
Whatever the approach you take, we strongly support your efforts to teach this subject with a long historical view. Migration is a fundamental aspect of the world in which we live, one that necessarily touches all pupils’ lives, and, if history is any sign, will only continue to do so as they grow older. By offering pupils the means and tools to think about the topic critically, through the lens of centuries of history, we better equip them to understand and engage with contemporary Britain and the world it sits within.
The Migration Museum Project (MMP) and the OCR are currently running a competition that invites teams of pupils to focus on a migration topic and enter exhibition plans for how it could be displayed in a national museum. A high-profile panel convened by MMP and OCR will judge the most inspiring and creative entries and announce the winners and the prize at a final event in London. See the teachers' briefing pack or contact the Migration Museum Project Head of Learning Emily Miller for more information.
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