Repost: Where does women’s history sit in the classroom?

I’m currently working for the explosive company History Bombs, (see what I did there?), which includes creating some shiny new blog content – you can check it out here.

It’s made me realise how much I miss writing and getting my metaphorical teeth into a totally new subject. So here’s part of a post I’m particularly proud of, all about the representation of women in schools’ history curriculum, which I wrote back in March! (Check out the full blog post here).

How can we place women’s history front and centre in the classroom?

Women’s history has been enjoying some much-deserved, and well-overdue, limelight these last few years.

The Suffragettes’ struggle was brought to the big screen in the 2015 star-studded movie The Suffragette. The Suffragist Millicent Fawcett made headlines (again) when hers became the first female statue in London’s Parliament Square in April 2018.

“It feels like history’s public image is finally on its way to shaking off its inherent masculinity”

Caroline Criado Perez, the writer and activist who campaigned for the statue, also successfully led a campaign that resulted in Jane Austen gracing the British £10 note the year before.

Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite. Credit: Atsushi Nishijima / 20th Century Fox)

The National Trust even unearthed the untold stories of women in their historic sites as part of their year-long programme, Women and Power, in 2018. While, more recently, the award-winning movie The Favourite shined a light on the immense influence and power of women in the 18th century court of Queen Anne.

Safe to say, it’s an exciting time for women’s history. Women’s contributions to history are consciously being sought after, and it feels like history’s public image is finally on its way to shaking off its inherent masculinity. However, is this progression reflected within the classroom?

WOMEN’S HISTORY IN THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM

Look at the National Curriculum in England and you’ll see that women are only mentioned once in the key stage three history programme of study – unsurprisingly in ‘women’s suffrage’. Fortunately, while it’s optional, many schools seem to choose to teach it.

“Women’s suffrage is commonly taught in schools”, says British history teacher Jackie Teale, adding, “It’s the only sequence of lessons that I can think of that focuses primarily on women.”

Charlotte Despard leads the Women’s Freedom League, in 1911.

However, we’d be wrong to jump to the assumption that just because the term ‘women’ is only named once in the study programme that women’s history is wholly excluded in all other topics. Elsewhere in the programme, ‘Christendom, the importance of religion and the Crusades’ and ‘Ireland and Home Rule’, for example, could both easily include the female experience without being blatantly labelled ‘women’s history’.

“are we novelising something that should instead be dispersed organically throughout all historical categories?”

In fact, some people think the category of women’s history – and even Women’s History Month – is problematic. By separating women’s experiences into just one category of history are we novelising something that should instead be dispersed organically throughout all historical categories, all year round?

With that in mind, perhaps the lack of specifically ‘female’ history in the National Curriculum isn’t a bad thing.

“I’m not sure that most students, particularly at key stage three, would recognise women’s history as anything other than history”, Teale points out. “Women’s history could be fitted within any of the programmes of study on the curriculum.”

…see the full blog post here.

(Header image credit: NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

Repost: How the way to the public’s heart is through their stomach

Four of my all-time favourite things are food, history, food history, and dogs. The last one is irrelevant to this post, but fortunately I combined the three former interests in a blog post all about using food in public history recently.

Inspired by my MA project Suffrage Eats, the post was for Bridging, the blog for the International Federation for Public History. You can check out the original post on their site, but I had such fun writing it – and not only because of the food-based pun opportunities – so popped it on my site too.

Now, to find an opportunity to write about the history of dogs…

Historical food for thought: How the way to the public’s heart is through their stomach

I love food. It’s not a mind-blowing statement, I know. Eating is an enjoyable – and necessary – part of human existence. It’s one of the great common denominators throughout human history: we all have to eat and we always have. Even Mahatma Ghandi, Jane Austen, Winston Churchill and Boudicca would have woken up wondering: ‘what’s for breakfast?’.

It’s this that makes food such an exciting tool for public historians. It can help communicate history at a level that’s accessible and where everyone is welcome – it takes history out of its ivory tower and serves it at the dinner table.

(Credit: Shane Rounce on Unsplash)

It’s strange then that food is still relatively fresh on the public history scene. It’s on the rise, however, and this is arguably thanks to the growth of social history that we have seen since the 1960s, as well as the demand for more hands-on activities and re-enactment across museums and historical institutions.

The Tenement Museum in New York is one big-name institution that appreciates the value food can bring to public history. Its ‘Food of the Lower East Side’ tour takes guests on a “walking-and-tasting tour explor[ing] the neighbourhood through the culinary traditions of a community that called the Lower East Side home”. Historian Adam Steinberg has explored the significance of multi-sensory experience in communicating history and explains how taste can “heighten the power of the story” being told.*

Even in the digital world, where taste isn’t directly possible, food is no less powerful a tool. English Heritage’s YouTube series, The Victorian Way, has amassed a dedicated following who tune in to watch the 19th century chef, Mrs Avis Crocombe, recreate real Victorian recipes. Through this series of charming cooking tutorials, which boasts more than 1.6 million views, English Heritage educates viewers on wider Victorian social history as well history of the site, Audley End House in Essex.

Furthermore, the videos’ busy comment sections see viewers engage with history as they debate topics and ask ‘Mrs Crocombe’ questions. Clearly there is an audience out there eager to learn history, as long as it’s served in a way that’s palatable, relatable and, ideally, alongside home-baked Victorian gingerbread.

My own recent project, Suffrage Eats, looked at the prominence of vegetarianism within the British Suffrage movement through a series of cookery videos. Each digital cooking tutorial recreated real vegetarian recipes from the late-Victorian and Edwardian era. The focus, however, was less on the food itself and more on using it as a vehicle to send a strong historical message.

Luckily, anyone looking for historical recipes will find themselves spoilt for choice. London’s Wellcome Library boasts a mighty collection of recipe books from as early as the 16th century – many which are freely available online – and includes a healthy batch of vegetarian cookbooks.

This proved invaluable for Suffrage Eats. Sifting through these archives and cross-referencing the cookbooks with other primary evidence, including interview recordings and written accounts, led to a strong shortlist of recipes relevant to my project.

However, from here one less-than-academic factor came into play: how appetising is the dish. Good public history prioritises its audience so, in appealing to 21st century viewers, I choose dishes familiar to them, dishes they could actually see themselves making. As such, recipes for ‘macaroni cheese’ won out over ‘timbale of colcannon’. The final choices were both historically sound, (macaroni was a popular late-Victorian vegetarian ingredient), while also being familiar and appealing to a wide audience.

The subsequent online cookery videos feature history ‘pop-ups’, informative written summaries, as well as accompanying blog posts and social media accounts, all providing greater historical context.

Turns out, a tutorial for Edwardian macaroni cheese is an effective way to convey some substantial history around the women’s suffrage movement. The foodie element helped the history reach a wider and more diverse audience than perhaps a simple article or traditional presenter-led video would have.

One personal favourite pieces of feedback Suffrage Eats received stated: “Suffragettes – they’re just like us! […] who knew people in the past even had a diet, let alone made conscious choices about being vegetarian”. This shows that, as well as being a good vehicle for history, food can humanise history and those that inhabited it.

By looking at what historical characters, such as the Suffrage campaigners, ate helps modern audiences see them for what they really were: not semi-fictional heroic protesters living in the foreign land of the past, but multifaceted and relatable humans who would wake up in the morning wondering: ‘what’s for breakfast?’.

*Adam Steinberg, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Food: Using Food to Teach History at the Tenement Museums’, The Public Historian, Vol 34, No 2 (Spring 2012)/small>

Event: Join me to chat vegetarianism and voting rights

As anyone who has shared even the briefest conversation with me recently will know, my summer has been dominated by vegetarian suffragettes.

By which I mean my MA Dissertation Project ‘Suffrage Eats’, an online series of cookery videos highlighting the little-known fact that many of those brilliant British women who fought for suffrage were also vegetarians!

I’ve ranted about it in a previous blog post (check that out here), and am now jolly excited to announce I will be ranting about it in person at the brilliant ‘How The Vote Was Won’ event at the Twickenham Exchange on 26 September.

Alongside the headline acts – a touring pop-up exhibition celebrating the amazing suffrage campaigners and a launch of a reissued edition of ‘The Original Suffrage Cookbook’ – you’ll also find me giving a talk about the prominence of vegetarianism within the historic movement!

The cookbook was originally published in the US in 1915 in order to raise funds for the suffrage cause, and includes British contributors such as Suffragette Lady Constance Lytton. You can see what The Guardian had to say about it here.

Plus, I’ve been told there will be cake! Why else do people study food history if not to have one big excuse to snack and call it research?

Anyway, find out more and book your tickets hereWish me luck!

Suffrage Eats: Vegetarian dishes from a suffrage kitchen

Confession: after almost a year of my MA in Public History, I still struggle to give a confident answer when asked, ‘What is public history?’. While attempting to explain, people usually look on with an expression that reads: ‘Why couldn’t you just be studying biology?’

While I may not be able to give a concise, crowd-pleasing definition for public history, I’m much happier talking about the history project that has been dominating my life these last few summer months.

Suffrage Eats: Vegetarian recipes from a suffragist kitchen’. It’s a four-part series of online cookery videos, recreating recipes from genuine Victorian and Edwardian vegetarian cookbooks. The purpose is to highlight the little-known fact that many of the awesome individuals who fought for women’s voting rights were also keen vegetarians.

As everyone everywhere has likely noticed, the women’s suffrage movement has been getting a lot of coverage recently. While that may be down to the fact that Meryl Streep graced cinema screens as Emmeline Pankhurst in 2015’s Suffragette, it’s also importantly because 100 years ago, in 1918, the first British women were granted the right to vote.

The revolutionary Representation of the People Act granted women over 30, with particular land qualifications, voting rights. (Misogyny Moment: This is also the act that finally gave all men over 21, regardless of land ownership, the right to vote. #NotAllMen). It wasn’t until 1928, with the Equal Franchise Act, that women were granted equal voting rights to men.

While I tend to steer clear of political history – or anything that requires memorising endless acts and dates – I’m a real nerd for social history and am always hungry for some food history (pun definitely intended). The vague notion that vegetarianism was popular with Suffragettes and Suffragists had been lodged in a corner of my mind for a while and my MA offered the perfect opportunity to explore it; to see whether it was true or a load of baloney (food pun #2).

Fortunately, turns out it’s absolutely true. Good thing too because, honestly, once I had the title ‘Suffrage Eats’ I was determined to create a project around it. All good MA dissertations start with a catchy headline, right?

The main course is the series of online cookery videos (food pun #3). There’s also a blog on the site, giving some extra fun historical info on vegetarianism and the movement, as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts. The Instagram has some fun behind the scenes footage, meanwhile I thought it’d be a fun idea to start Tweeting from the perspective of an Edwardian Suffragette so – yep – check that out.

After many dedicated months I am somewhat proud of the project, especially considering it’s my first foray into filming and editing, so am finding any excuse to invite people to check it out, (even through my own blog!).

Take a gander, get in touch on Twitter and maybe make your own Suffrage Eats dish (or two?).