Saturday, 2 July 2011

Whose Town? Edinburgh children's history initiative

An innovative new scheme to help educate Edinburgh's children on the history of their city has just been launched. Here's the press release from Edinburgh City Council:

School pupils across the city are set to benefit from a unique new digital teaching resource which uses real life Edinburgh case studies to illustrate key periods of recent history.

Whose Town? (, a collaborative project jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is a ground-breaking piece of educational software aimed at pupils aged between 8 and 13.

Focusing on the period between the 1850s and 1950s, the resource will be used as part of the Curriculum for Excellence levels 2 to 4, where pupils study key points in history including Victorian Britain and the home front during World War Two.

The time frame has been divided into historical strands: Victorian Edinburgh (1870s to 1890s); Brave New World, Edinburgh at the turn of the twentieth century (1900 to 1914); Carrot Jam & Pudding Pie, Edinburgh during the Second World War (1939 to 1945); and Change in the Air, Edinburgh in the 1950s.

Using photographs, documents, and recordings of face-to-face interviews with the featured individuals themselves or with their relatives, Whose Town? showcases the experiences of fourteen people who lived through the various periods. Pupils can learn about each individual by clicking on a box on the screen to access all the information it contains.

The featured case studies include Robert Louis Stevenson and Bessie Watson, who at nine years old played the bagpipes as she took part in the Edinburgh Procession and Women's Demonstration of 9 October 1909.

The World War Two period is illustrated by four 'lives in boxes'. One of these is Nancy Comber (Pugh), 81, who was evacuated as a child during the Second World War. She said: "I really enjoyed being part of this project - it's a brilliant idea and I'm sure the children will get a lot out of it. The fact that they're looking into the lives of real people - some of whom, like me, are still alive - should help to make it much more interesting. It makes it like a kind of living history, which is possibly easier to relate to than just reading a book about someone's life."

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure Convener, said: "With Whose Town? Edinburgh City Libraries and partners have created a stimulating and valuable educational tool which really brings Edinburgh history to life through stories of real people's experiences and memories. It's a uniquely creative approach which is bound to inspire children across Edinburgh to find out more about their locality and the people who have lived here. Congratulations to all the partners involved for developing such an exciting and innovative resource."

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "Bringing history to life is such a powerful way of engaging children's attention. This project will not only help them learn key areas of the curriculum but will hopefully stimulate an interest in the history on their doorstep. Young people are the future custodians of our heritage so their passion for it is vital if we are to keep that heritage from being lost forever."

Whose Town? is a collaborative project led by Edinburgh City Libraries with the following partners: Edinburgh City Museums and Galleries, Edinburgh City Archives, Children and Families Department, The Living Memory Association, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Scotland Map Library, Lothian Health Services Archive, General Register Office for Scotland and the Museum of Fire.

The software was jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through their Your Heritage Fund for small projects.

The resource will be accessible from all city schools via the GLOW network and also on CD. In time, the Whose Town? concept has the potential to be rolled out nationally.

Comment: At the SAFHS conference last week, Clare Padgett gave me a copy of the CD to have a play with, and I have to say it is absolutely fantastic. I went through it with my son a couple of days ago and we explored various sections, including the 2nd World War area with sounds of bombs falling, babies crying and sirens ringing, and it put a chill down both our spines! A wonderfully interactive resource, packed with photos, documents, sound scapes and more. I would love to see a Glasgow version, as that would be directly more relevant to my sons ancestral background, and it could so easily be replicated for other areas of the country also, but even so, the interactive case study approach here provides a wonderful way for kids to 'get into' history, vividly bringing it all to life.

Incidentally, for those not in the know, GLOW is a schools based intranet system, my son uses it here in Largs, and even if regional versions could not be produced, I would still love to see my kids access this Edinburgh based resource in their classes here on the other side of the country, because it is well produced, highly interactive, and successfully introduces a key element into the teaching of Scottish history - a bit of fun! The CD itself also has extensive teachers notes and suggested methodology for using the resource - a real winner.

(With thanks to Clare)

UPDATE: Something else that has caught my eye on the kids front is a project from Preston, which I've just picked up from Twitter. It's called Lessons from the Past, and is an oral history project underway by kids in Preston, Lancashire. Also well worth a look at


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