50 Essential Songs for the History Classroom

I am a big fan of music in the history classroom and I have created a number of Spotify Playlists for this purpose. Often this is merely to help create a calm and purposeful working atmosphere, when a bit of Chopin or Debussy sets the tone perfectly. Occasionally it’s even possible to have calming instrumental music directly related to the topic in question: for example, Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, which was inspired by the composer watching British troop ships heading off to France in 1914.

However, some songs are better used to stoke up some energy during lessons, whilst the very best of all are historical sources in themselves, combining musical feeling with powerful lyrical content. What follows is a list of songs I regularly use in class, organised in broadly chronological order in terms of the topics they relate to, with a brief explanation of how you could make use of them with your own students.

What follows is a list of 25 principal songs, but with links to others on similar themes or by similar artists, bringing the total up to over 50. If you have any other suggestions, please contact me (@russeltarr / @activehistory on Twitter) and I’d be delighted to add them to the list (as long as it isn’t “We didn’t start the fire” by Billy Joel. Which I admit is superb, but we all know this one, surely?).

View the full list of songs here.