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Katherine Wilson Associate Professor of Later Medieval European History at the University of Chester and Olivia Morris, Associate Teacher with pupils from Oldfield Primary School in Chester

Academics from the University of Chester and the University of Oxford, with colleagues from the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, trainee teachers and teachers, have designed Object Boxes with medieval and early modern artefacts to be loaned with teaching resources to primary and secondary schools.

The development of the Object Boxes builds on workshops bringing artefacts into lessons, for pupils to handle, discuss and produce work on, in previous years, and which provided underpinning research.

The collaborative work has also led to the launch of a new short film which explains to primary and secondary teachers how these objects can be used in schools and the benefits of handling them in the study of History. The film can be watched at: https://vimeo.com/600208924.

The initiative is part of the 'Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries 1000-1700 (MOB): Exhibiting, Handling and Teaching the Past through Everyday Objects’ project which aims to bring historical artefacts to life, challenge perceptions of the medieval and early modern worlds as static and unchanging, and elite narratives of history by focusing on everyday objects.

The project is funded in the main by a UK Research and Innovation Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Follow on Funding Grant for Impact and Engagement.

Katherine Wilson, Associate Professor of Later Medieval European History at the University of Chester said: “We’re investigating how the past can be introduced more effectively to school pupils - and are very excited that the development of these Object Boxes and their educational resources is underway as a key outcome of the AHRC project.

“We are asking ‘how can everyday objects from the past inform historical enquiry’ and ‘can and should they be brought into the classroom for pupils to see and touch’?

“We’re focusing on everyday objects not extensively studied before such as pottery, shoes, belt buckles, keys, rings, tiles, coins, glass and devotional tokens - and if they can help pupils understand significant events such as the Black Death and changes in religious beliefs.

“Some pupils seem to expect or seek to offer right answers or pre-processed responses - but we wanted to know how would they would respond to objects with no known story behind them and no right answers.

“The answers are proving very revealing and might even change the way History is taught in schools. We’ve found that when we’ve given pupils the opportunity to handle, examine, discuss and produce a piece of creative writing on a chosen object, they have interacted with the objects in the same way historians, art historians and archaeologists do. They have seen them as the remains of a changing living and social world, and engaged in genuine historical processes and enquiry.

“The input of primary and secondary teachers has been invaluable to date and we encourage any teacher interested in piloting or using these Boxes to get in touch with us.”

The design of the Object Boxes began with a handling session of the Grosvenor artefacts in Oldfield Primary School in Chester in September. The session with years three, four, five and six was led by the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) Secondary History students at the University of Chester and supervised by Professor Wilson, and Dr Daryn Egan-Simon, Senior Lecturer in History Education.

A two-day workshop at the Grosvenor Museum in October then brought together primary and secondary teachers from Cheshire, Liverpool, Shropshire and North Wales to begin the design of the educational resources that will accompany the Object Boxes and enable teachers to run their own ‘object handling sessions’ in their school settings. This workshop was run by academics from the department of History and Archaeology, Education and Children’s Services and Music, Media and Performance at the University of Chester as well as Dr Leah R Clark, Associate Professor in the History of Art at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford.

Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Councillor Louise Gittins said: “I’m thrilled our museums service has been able to help bring history to life for school pupils in this way.

“This is such an exciting project, using new insights on how objects from the ordinary aspects of life can boost a learner’s understanding of a particular period in history. This project brings our museums to the classroom if schools aren’t able to physically visit us.”

Any teachers or schools interested in using an Object Box with their pupils are encouraged to please contact: k.wilson@chester.ac.uk.

Among other activities, the MOB initiative will also see a public exhibition created at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester next year, featuring Augmented Reality representing the medieval interior of St John’s Cathedral. It will bring to light objects that have never been exhibited before and showcase the work of school students.

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