English Heritage makes sense of history

Make sense of history

English Heritage is encouraging visitors to its properties to deepen their connection with the past by taking time to focus on the sensations around them. And, in a “playful update”, the organisation is reintroducing old ‘Ministry of Works’ signs to its sites, encouraging visitors not to miss out on sensory experiences. This initiative – called Make Sense of History – is an imaginative way to inspire people of all ages, including children and young people, to discover more about the past and aligns closely with core elements of Life-Based Learning.

English Heritage is a charity that manages over 400 historic monuments, buildings and places across England. These include prehistoric sites, medieval castles, Roman forts and country houses. The charity’s aim is to “bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year”.

Its latest initiative in immersive, hands-on history – Make Sense of History – is all about encouraging people not just to experience the story of England where it really happened but also to better connect with the past and understand the lives of those who went before by making full use of the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

The English Heritage website includes a guide called 50 Ways to Explore Using Your Senses, collated by English Heritage historians. Examples include:

  • Smell the cordite and gunpowder at castles like Dover and Pendennis, where we still fire historic cannon and big guns
  • Taste the produce still grown in our historic kitchen gardens – asparagus and potatoes are among the season’s stars
  • Touch the bark of our trees including those planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at their seaside home, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight
  • Listen out for the calls of summer-visiting birds like swifts and swallows, the sounds of which were often noted by Victorian and Edwardian gardeners in their diaries
  • Peel back the layers of garden design as you see how different owners left their mark. Wrest Park, in particular, is an amalgamation of three centuries of ideas

There is a shorter download version, which begins:

Print this sheet off, close your eyes, put your finger somewhere on the page. Follow the instruction that your finger lands on to enjoy a sensational day out. Repeat until you’ve tried them all!

Throughout the centuries, the properties in our care have been homes, workplaces and places of worship for many thousands of people. We’re inviting people to use their senses to connect with the past and experience the very same things that they did. In today’s world, we’re constantly overstimulated and it can be difficult to stop and connect with our environment. We hope our visitors will be inspired to take time and, in doing so, form a deeper.

from the English Heritage website

Life-Based Learning

The Make Sense of History initiative includes much that aligns with the LBL approach to learning.

Blogs such as Opening up the countryside focus on the beneficial effects of nature on our physical and mental wellbeing and of putting nature at the very heart of children’s lives. LBL prioritises not just learning about the natural world but also actually experiencing and enjoying nature and the environment.

Our blog Getting involved with nature is a great way to deal with eco-anxiety highlighted the growing popularity of ‘green social prescribing’ – where individuals and, increasingly, health and community services use nature to boost mental wellbeing.

We also argued that active engagement with nature and the environment is a way to tackle mental health conditions like eco-anxiety that thrive on feelings of helplessness and disempowerment.

We have also written several blogs on the importance of history in the school curriculum (see below). History gives us an understanding of people, events and developments in past times and how they have shaped the present. Taught sensitively, history promotes community cohesion and helps us forge a sense of identity and belonging. And history also improves our critical thinking skills, enabling us to make sense of the world around us in this age of information, misinformation and disinformation.

And finally, English Heritage’s focus on the five senses is a reminder of the importance of putting life itself at the centre of our thinking – hence our name: Life-Based Learning.

The image at the head of this article is from the English Heritage website.

Read More About History in the Curriculum

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