Ideas for making the most of your old History magazines

Overview

As digital archives of history articles become increasingly accessible for students and teachers, it’s easy for print versions of of magazines slowly gather dust on the shelves before being unceremoniously dumped onto the charity pile during the annual classroom clearout. But looked at more creatively, those old issues of History Today, Modern History Review and Hindsight can be given a new lease of life in order to generate fresh topics of debate and inspiration for personal projects, presentations and extended essays.

Case Study: “When and Where?” to broaden chronological and regional knowledge

Provide each student (or pair of students, given how many magazines you have available) with a different edition of the history magazine. Ask them to look at the cover image and the caption associated with this ‘lead article’. Without opening the magazine, invite them to make a deduction about what is going to be the “where and when” focus of this piece (e.g. Americas, Early Modern period? Britain, 19th Century?). After discussion in groups and/or as a class, each student should then open the magazine, identify the article in question, and decide upon the actual “where and when” focus of the article. Each student should report their findings one at a time, and the rest of the class should take brief notes. Additionally, the teacher should record the patterns that start to emerge on the classroom whiteboard in a grid like this:

  Americas Asia Africa Oceania Europe
<1450 XXX X XX
1450-1750 X XX X
1750-1900 XX X XXX
1900-2000 XXXX XXXXX XX X XXXXX

 

Following from this, students should be invited to draw some observations and complete some follow-up tasks to make use of their notes and the summary grid. These might include:

? Which periods / regions appear to be most popular with historians? Why might this be?

? Are there particular topics or themes which seem to be particularly popular? Why?

From this initial starting point, students can go in all sorts of different directions. For example, the process could be deepened by students completing their own version of the grid outlined above for all the articles in their allocated magazine. These could then be compared and collated prior to further discussion and observations.

Next, students should choose one article from their own or someone else’s magazine to read more thoroughly (or skim-read, depending upon the time available) and present to the class in a mini-presentation (sticking to the strict format, perhaps, of “Three interesting things and one interesting image” to present in just a couple of minutes). After finishing, provide each student with a sticky-note to summarise their essential thoughts upon and to stick onto the article ready to provide inspiration and interest for the students who follow the next year.

Taking it further

The ideal result of this process should be that students have broadened their perspective about the breadth of history in a way which gives them a complete break from the normal scheme of work. They should also now be aware of neglected parts of the historical record, at least insofar as these magazines would suggest.

From this point, they could then proceed to conduct their own research on one of these neglected periods, places or themes and come up with a proposed question for investigation. Each of these ideas could be “pitched” to the teacher in a “dragon’s den” format (with the teacher asking such questions as “Why is this interesting? Why is this significant?”).

Alternatively or additionally, students could design their own mock magazine cover in the same style as those they have been using, drawing attention to what they consider to be the best articles from the widest range of places and periods. After providing an explanation along with their design, this could form the basis of a stimulating display piece with the magazines themselves being placed alongside for students to dip into and hopefully gain interest and inspiration from.

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