Sense of period – increasing the sense of a contemporary voice in the classroom

As part of my obsession with sense of period I have decided to increase the use of contemporary narratives in the classroom. I like this idea as a) I love stories and b) believe that they reveal a ton about attitudes, values and beliefs of the people who wrote them.

This began when I was teaching the Ancient Greek. I was stuck for ideas and posted a tweet which got a reply:


So following @Historylecturer’s tweet I tried out using the 12 labours of Heracles in class with 12 different students reading out a labour. This worked well and spawned an interesting discussion about Greek attitudes to heroes and obsessions with physical strength.

This got me thinking. Could I use contemporary narratives for other periods of history. So when we came to the Dark Ages in the Medicine through Time unit I used a bit of the Morpurgo version of Beowulf. Again half the class ended up reading a bit and even though some were bored witless (kids!), some got into it and after we discussed Anglo-Saxon obsessions with warriors and their beliefs in the supernatural combined with a strong belief in a Christian God. Winner.

So far so good. This seems to be working. But I need more contemporary narratives and this is where I need help. Can you suggest any cracking stories or parts of stories I can use to illustrate the attitudes and values of other periods. I was thinking of some Chaucer for the Middle Ages or some Dickens for the 19th Century but would value any suggestions. As ever leave a comment below or tweet me @kenradical. Ta in advance!

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One Response to Sense of period – increasing the sense of a contemporary voice in the classroom

  1. dmfdmh says:

    Hi – have just been checking your posts and came across your request about contemporary narratives – what about poems as well? Some really wonderful Anglo Saxon poetry that wrenches at the heart string every time I read it – there are of course the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and some Viking Norse sagas – Egil’s in particular that give vivid pictures of life as it was and what mattered to them.

    I pause before suggesting this but Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur could be interesting because of course he was re-writing a lot of the stories which had been used throughout the centuries by Welshmen, Englishmen, Bretons and the French – shaped by each generation and nation for different reasons and with different implications. In re- creating the stories whilst stuck in prison Mallory may well have been shaping a socio-political consciousness that Henry Tudor may have bought into. That is a tentative claim – Mallory was writing his stories – allegedly – while imprisoned during Edward IV’s reign – but Henry makes sure his wife gives birth at Winchester to their first son Arthur… and there is something going on – not sure what but why does Henry – I am not sure whether it was Henry VII or VIII – also claim to have found the Round Table…

    I suspect using the legend of Arthur to illustrate medicine through time is a bit far-fetched – though Merlin of course might be interesting- but that is an entirely different story..

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