The theme for Black History Month this year was ‘Saluting our Sisters’ and highlights the crucial role that black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change, and building communities. It also encourages continued action in tackling racism and ensuring black history is represented to encourage social cohesion between young people in the UK. To support and celebrate this, a number of learning opportunities involving History and PSHE lessons, elements of the trip to York and resources on Tooled Up Education were used to engage, inspire and challenge the boys to celebrate diversity and question the past.
At Davenies, we are strongly committed to the personal development of the boys. Themes such as Black History Month in October are extremely important for their social development by ensuring the boys know about its significance to help make sense of the world and, unfortunately, the prejudice, bias, stereotyping and discrimination that can take place within it. This links to our school environment in terms of what we value in being a community of tolerance and inclusiveness with each striving for the good of all. This in turn helps the boys to enhance their own awareness of any subconscious bias making critical thinking possible – an extremely important transferable skill to their academic learning, as well as personal growth.
Whilst visiting York, famous in part for being a Roman Fortress, and in line with this year’s theme, the boys learnt about The Ivory Bangle Lady c. AD 300-400, found in a stone coffin in York in 1901. She is named for one of the pieces of jewellery which she was buried alongside. These included ivory and jet bangles, a bracelet of blue glass beads, silver and bronze pendants and two yellow-glass earrings, all marking her out as a woman of wealth and high status.
Archaeological and written evidence showed those on the trip (As well as Year 4 who study the Romans) that Roman Britain, like the rest of the empire, was a multicultural place where people of African descent could be found in every level of society, even from the very top with the Emperor Septimius Severus himself, and in as places as diverse as Cumbria, York, London and the South Coast of England.
Within History lessons, boys were set the task of enquiry-based learning projects that linked to the schemes of work of which they have been working through since the start of term.
In the Junior School, Year 3 explored the presence of Africans on Ancient Greek pottery using visual sources from The Met Museum in New York within their unit on Ancient Greece. This was reinforced further by the work of boys in Year 4 who have been learning about the Roman Empire. Recent work has allowed them to challenge the misconception that there was not a presence of Africans in Britain at this time, when indeed there actually was. Looking at Africa in the Roman Empire (AD 43), boys researched Septimius Severus as the first Black emperor of Rome (AD 193), who also based himself in York, as well as looking at the Black Romans who guarded Hadrian’s Wall at this time, known as the Aurelian Moors.
Boys in the Middle School grasped the opportunity for comparative analysis of different historical periods within British History, as well as world history. Using their Anglo-Saxon topic, Year 5 learnt how the Sutton Hoo Hoard (a vast collection of gold and garnet military artefacts) shows us that the Anglo-Saxons were actually well connected globally and traded materials as far away as India and Sri Lanka. Others in the year group did a comparative weapon study between the Anglo-Saxons and another civilisation in the world, the Kingdom of Benin in Africa. Within this study, the boys compared the different weapons in terms of weapons, armour and tactics.
Year 6, who have been studying the Norman Conquest, compared the migration of the Normans under William Duke of Normandy to the history of the Empire Windrush (1948) as part of a project about significant historical events. Within this, they questioned its importance by assessing the consequences of migration over the 882 years between the two events. Additionally, Year 6 will be looking at Norman adventures in Africa in subsequent weeks.
The Common Entrance syllabus studied by Years 7 and 8 focusses on the Tudor Dynasty and eyes were opened when studying visual sources of Henry VII and Henry VIII’s courts to see John Blanke, a royal trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. He remains the only black Tudor for whom we have an identifiable image. While serving two kings, he bore witness to some of the great moments in England’s history and contributed to some of the greatest spectacles of the Tudor age.
This depth study captured the boys’ imaginations which opened new lines of research using Dr Miranda Kaufmann’s book, Black Tudors. Black Tudors has become a phenomenon in the History teaching community since its publication in 2017. Within it, an infographic of the lives of six Black Tudors in Britain gave the boys an insight into a neglected history. At its heart, the book is about human stories that are so key to pupils’ interest and engagement. From this, the boys researched and presented their own projects on one of the Tudors mentioned, two of which followed the theme of saluting our sisters to include Mary Fillis, one of the first black people to be christened in Tudor England as well as Cattalena of Almondsbury who lived in rural England which was very uncommon for migrants who arrived in Britain. Other projects included Reasonable Blackman, Diego the Circumnavigator, John Blanke and Jaques Francis.
The purpose of this month was about giving boys a snapshot of the wider range of History that exists in Britain. By exploring the experiences of individuals, it has enabled the boys to link them to a wider historical narrative. As such, honouring the contributions made to society by people of Black heritage and their communities; in addition to emphasising the need to come together around a shared common goal to achieve a better world for everyone. The History Department will be building on recent work for Remembrance next week when boys will be undertaking a number of different projects to celebrate the soldiers of the Commonwealth, as well as looking at the stories of Britain’s black community in the First World War and the role of women in WW1.
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