Small changes, big impact
The aim of the Moving Beyond Boundaries project was to open up a discussion about how women’s history could be perceived and taught differently in schools. We knew that it is not that women’s history is absent on the curriculum, but that the way it is presented is often problematic. Through workshops with school students, we found that students had become somewhat ambivalent about women’s history because they felt it was tokenistic and ‘tacked on’, separated out from the main events and debates that they had studied. It was our goal to explore how women’s history could be integrated better, without reducing its coverage and undoing any of the significant gains already made.
Based on our discussions with students and teachers, we have developed a set of recommendations on how to include women’s history in the classroom more effectively. These recommendations do not require fundamental changes to teaching practice. Instead, they are about making small alterations to how women’s history is presented to students, with integration as a core component:
- Try to find different/unusual sources which offer some insight into the daily lives of women (you can find some examples in our teaching packs).
- Try to be upfront when sources on women difficult to find, encouraging students to be critical and think about the origins of sources.
- When talking about elite men, try to talk about elite women too. The sources are there and some did play significant political roles e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine.
- Discuss the social expectations of women and men alongside the lived reality e.g. the ideal Victorian woman was the ‘angel of the house’, but most women had to work in this period.
- Do not present men and women as homogenous groups, or as having completely different experiences from each other e.g. that men worked and women stayed at home.
- Try to convey to students that men’s roles could fluctuate just as much as women’s and avoid casting women as the ‘other’.
The teaching packs we offer incorporate these recommendations, but teachers can adapt their own lesson plans and methods, taking a fresh look at how they approach the teaching of women’s history. We want to encourage teachers to teach women’s history, not as something separate, but as something ordinary. We found that we were able to change students’ minds once they were given the right knowledge and resources. We hope that the mainstreaming of women’s history in this way will enable students to better recognise women’s contributions to society and enrich their understanding of how people in the past lived.