- Empire and Commonwealth
Let’s Talk About Empire and Conflict: CPD for Teachers
IWM’s free CPD films support teaching the experiences and legacy of the British Empire and conflict for secondary pupils.
Teachers told us they face key challenges in teaching this subject. How does Empire and conflict fit in a National Curriculum? How can you find and use primary and secondary sources to have conversations about inequality? How can you feel confident with language? How can sources reflect and support the different heritage and lived experience within your classrooms?
Led by IWM experts, teachers and equality advocates Let’s Talk About Empire and Conflict explores how to teach this subject within a broad and balanced curriculum. You’ll find practical guidance on approach, language, finding sources and managing difficult conversations about race and representation.
These videos can be used as a teacher’s companion to these BBC Bitesize resources for KS3 students.
In addition to IWM expert historians, we are delighted to be working with the following contributors:
Dan Lyndon (Teacher and Author)
Dan Lyndon-Cohen has been teaching History in schools across London for over 25 years and currently works as Lead Practitioner for Humanities at Park View School in Tottenham. He has published extensively on migration histories including his most recent book for primary schools 'Journeys: The Story of Migration to Britain'. As well as collaborating on the writing of the OCR GCSE Migration courses and textbooks Dan also wrote the exam papers for the OCR A course between 2016 and 2020. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Schools History Project and has been a regular contributor to its annual conference for many years delivering workshops and plenaries on a diverse range of topics.
Funmilola Stewart (Head of History at Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford)
Funmilola Stewart is Head of History at Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford. She is passionate about delivering an honest, representative and inclusive curriculum, which provides students with access to realities that have previously been neglected. Funmi is focusing on decolonising the history curriculum and stepping away from a Eurocentric approach to history teaching. Funmi hopes to inspire students to feel confident within their own identities, as well as encouraging them to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance of the identities of others.
Dr Halima Begum (Chief Executive The Runnymede Trust)
Dr Halima Begum is the Director of the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race equality think tank working to build a Britain in which all citizens and communities feel valued, enjoy equal opportunities, lead fulfilling lives, and share a common sense of belonging.
This is Let's Talk About, a digital CPD series for teachers. Over the next few weeks, our topic is: Let's Talk About Empire And Conflict. My name is Dan Lyndon-Cohen, and I'm the lead practitioner for humanities at Parkview School in Tottenham. I've been teaching history for over 25 years, and throughout my career have been passionately committed to diversifying the curriculum to include stories that have been marginalized for too long. This series is for anyone who wants to develop their teaching practice on the First and Second World War, by identifying, sharing, and discussing diverse sources which focus on the contribution of the individual nations who once formed the British Empire. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Imperial War Museums and talking to different experts. I hope you'll find these conversations offer you practical guidance on approach, language, finding sources, and inequality, race, and representation.
Here I am in the Imperial War Museum, surrounded by objects that tell stories about conflict since the First World War. We know that sometimes in hidden ways, or sometimes in very explicit ways, every one of these objects also tells a story about the British Empire and conflict. In this video, with help of some expert colleagues, I’m going to talk about two of the key challenges facing teachers who want to include British Empire histories in their teaching of the First and Second World Wars. The first challenge we often hear about is, “there's no room on the curriculum for this”. The second, “there aren't enough readily available resources out there”. Throughout the series, we're going to think about how to manage these topics in classrooms with students who have very different experiences.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Funmilola Stewart, a brilliant teacher in Bradford, about teaching Empire and conflict within the national curriculum:
[In video call]
[Dan Lyndon-Cohen] Hi Funmi, it's great to talk to you. Today, we're going to be talking about teaching the history of Empire when we teach the First and Second World Wars, and what from our experience we do when we hear that, uh often repeated phrase, “I’d love to teach this but there's just no room on the curriculum”. So, we're both going to be answering some questions which are going to pop up on the screen, but before we do that can you just tell us a little bit more about yourself?
[Funmilola Stewart] Hi, I’m Funmi Stewart, and I’m head of history at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford. I’ve been teaching history for two and a half years now, and I became head of history in August 2020. Since taking on the role, I’ve identified some areas of our curriculum that are lacking in diversity, and I’m really passionate about changing that. My key priority this year has been on decolonizing the way that we teach the British Empire and slavery, in order to ensure that students have been provided with the true depiction of events. One key thing that stood out to me was this idea that in order to truly understand the implications of Empire, students would first have to be exposed to pre-colonial history.
[On Screen: What are the barriers to including Empire histories in popular curriculum topics like the First and Second World War?]
[DLC] The biggest barrier that most teachers would identify is subject knowledge. They simply were never taught these topics themselves at school or university, certainly not at teacher training - or a limited amount of teacher training - and this links to the second barrier, which is the fear of stepping into sensitive and/or controversial topics without having the experience and the knowledge and the confidence to navigate through these challenges. So, in order to address these interconnected issues, you know, it's important to approach these stories in exactly the same way you would with any topic that you have to teach in your history curriculum. You know, do your research, do your reading, tap into the history education community, you know, find people that are willing to bounce around ideas and support your learning.
[FS] Additionally, I think that currently there are genuine fears about what are the ‘right things to teach’. There seems to be this perception that, in order to incorporate new information about Empire, entire topics or schemes of work will have to be removed. It's really important for people to understand that actually these histories can be easily integrated, rather than completely replacing huge chunks of the existing schemes of work.
There's also the more complex side of engaging with issues that are not fully understood by everyone. For example, some teachers might think that they're teaching a detailed enough scheme of work by teaching a scheme that looks at the problems with recruitment in World War One, considers the difficult experiences of soldiers at war, looks at the contributions of women and so on. I think that people have this attitude that this is a balanced approach to teaching, and that so long as these stories are being told, who they are told about and where they're from doesn't necessarily matter. I’ve realized that it's difficult for some people to understand that experiences, both past and present, do differ as a result of race, ethnicity, and heritage, and so they find it difficult to empathize with the necessity of more representation of these experiences. Lack of representation is a completely new phenomenon for some people because they've never had to experience it themselves.
Also, I think it's really important to engage with the teachers that are doing this already, because they'll be able to provide an insight into the hugely positive impact that this can have on students. I think it's so important for students to learn about diverse histories, and maybe even more so in classrooms that are lacking in diversity. If students are only ever taught about histories that directly relate to themselves, then they're likely to find it difficult to empathize with and to understand the lived experiences of other people. Through learning about the histories of people from different backgrounds, students are likely to be able to learn acceptance, which just means so much more than tolerance in the current climate. And actually, I think that teaching about these things can lead to kind of much needed validation for staff and students with lived experiences of racism. Obviously, we need to be incredibly careful with the way these things are taught, because we're not in a position that we want to develop trauma amongst staff or among students. However, I am a firm believer that ignoring a problem does not necessarily mean solving it, and I think avoiding teaching about these topics does not equate to protecting students. Obviously, it's so heart-breaking and so unsettling to learn that racism has been around for so long, but by addressing it within the classroom it allows us to explain the origins of racism, and also to really heavily condemn it. I hope that unpicking and challenging racism within the history classroom will be instrumental in kind of equipping students to do that outside of school, as well.
[DLC] Yeah, as I’ve become much more explicit in the teaching of race and racism in my classroom, I’ve become increasingly aware of the power of these stories, which can be very, very triggering for some students. This year, I had two students in tears when I showed a video about the transatlantic slave trade, and I had to reflect really, really hard on the appropriateness of that clip. And I, I really wanted to talk to the students as well, about their feelings and their emotions as that went through, and we together collectively came to the conclusion that I shouldn't really show that clip anymore. You know, there are alternative ways of presenting this knowledge, and that was the challenge for me to find those alternatives.
[On Screen: The First and Second World War are taught in nearly every school in this country. What are the curriculum links with teaching the history of these conflicts through the lens of the British Empire?]
[DLC] I mean, for many years I’ve been able to integrate a diverse range of histories throughout my Key Stage 3 teaching, and there's a real opportunity here to build progression in student knowledge across the key stage. For example, where we teach our students about the start of British Empire in India in Year Eight, this makes it much easier for them to understand why over a million men were part of the British Indian Army during the First World War when we look at that in Year Nine. And when we look at the different aspects of the First World War, we look at it through the lens of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army to be able to take command, uh, give command to white soldiers. And we follow his experiences through the letters that he wrote to his brother, and at one point he reveals that he's asked for a transfer from the Middlesex Regiment to the British West Indies Regiment, and that opens up many fascinating questions about his lived experience in the British Army. So, there are lots of individual stories that can easily be covered in one or two lessons And you know, if you want to focus on the Second World War for example, you can talk about Noor Inayat Khan, who spied for the British. If you want to go back to the First World War you can look at Khudadad Khan, the first Indian soldier to win a Victoria Cross.
[FS] So Dan's examples sound amazing, and I’ve got some other examples from our schemes of work this year. So, this year we have incorporated case studies on the Mughal Empire and the Kingdom of Benin, and I think that teaching the pre-colonial history of Africa and, in this case, India is a really important way of building pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the different cultures and societies that existed prior to British involvement. I think it makes it clear to students that real people with real lives and real culture existed long before Europeans had ever set foot in these areas. In terms of teaching Empire soldiers, it also helps to pave the way for students to recognize that actually during the world wars, colonial soldiers sacrificed a lot to contribute towards a nation that had already taken so much away from them, and as well this emphasizes how contemptible the wartime racism was. I think otherwise there is this risk of painting the narrative that colonial soldiers were kind of returning a favour to the British for rescuing them, which we know is not the case.
Additionally, I’m adapting our World War One scheme of work at the moment, and I realised that when schools teach World War One, or certainly when I was at school and training, there's a lot of emphasis on the recruitment of British soldiers. So, schools are well versed in teaching recruitment methods, and analysing the Kitchener poster, and teaching Pals Battalions and so on, but there's actually much less insight into how soldiers from the Empire were recruited. For example, Santanu Das tells the story of how one and a half million men were recruited from the villages of India and to serve for the Empire in World War One. He explained examples of coercion, including water supplies being cut off, and women being kind of kidnapped if their husbands were reluctant to fight. And I think it would be really easy for schools to incorporate knowledge of this alongside their existing lessons on recruitment.
Finally, I’ve been reading about Sarojini Naidu, who played a huge part in the Indian independence movement, as well as campaigning for women's rights. Lots of schools teach the suffragettes in Britain, and it could be brilliant to explore the campaigns of women from different areas as well at the same time. All of these examples just demonstrate that teachers don't have to completely transform their existing long-term plans and schemes of work, and it's about including a more diverse range of stories that show different experiences from the same periods of history.
[DLC] But also what's interesting, and what's often left out, is the post-war experience of African, Caribbean, and Asian migrants in Britain. So, we look at the end of our unit on the First World War, we look at the race riots that took place in Cardiff and Liverpool and London in 1919, and we ask our students to explore the reasons for racial tension in those cities. You may even be able to draw on the family histories of your own students. You know, I’ve worked in schools recently with very large Turkish populations and have done some amazing projects around Gallipoli or Çanakkale. One student who I taught this year had been taken there by his parents. He was able to show us the photos of the trenches, he was able to share the stories that he learned, and it was an absolute fascinating insight into the event which was just so much more powerfully enriched by the direct link to that story.
[FS] Some of these students are likely to have knowledge of this from home anyway, and I think it's really important that this knowledge is legitimized and expanded upon in the classroom. For students who might not be introduced to the stories of Empire at home, being exposed to these sources within school is kind of the best way of challenging misconceptions about who contributed to the wars. And then seeing these sources in person, I think makes the experience feel more real for all students.
[End of video call]
[DLC] Funmi and I agree that if you want to teach histories of Empire and conflict. it is possible to make room on the curriculum; these stories are everywhere. The next challenge is to find appropriate resources Next, you're going to hear from Vikki Hawkins, an Imperial War Museum historian who's going to introduce us to the IWM collections online and point out a few particularly relevant sources.
[Vikki Hawkins] Hi, I'm Vikki, a curator at imperial war museums in London. IWM’s collections online is a great resource for anyone looking for real sources to support their teaching. Today I'm going to tell you about some of the different types of objects and stories we have in our collection that can tell us more about the experiences of people from the former British Empire during the Second World War. Each of these sources are accessible to key stage 3 and 4 audiences and can be used to teach history through many different lenses.
I'm going to start with a photograph, IWM WA14. It's a photo which is described as showing African recruits in British West Africa pointing at a recruitment poster, which is called the British Commonwealth of Nations Together, at a recruiting centre in Accra, Gold Coast which is now present-day Ghana. WA14 is one of the thousands of photographs taken during the Second World War by official photographers. This photo was taken on behalf of the Ministry of Information, the government department for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War. Many of the captions that describe these photographs on the IWM website use language that was used at the time to describe people places or events. This language is historically accurate, but it is often outdated, and sometimes can be offensive. This can cause challenges to finding material, but also when viewing and using it. So, when using photographs from historical archives such as IWM’s collections online as primary sources, here are a few things I suggest you consider:
Number one: who took the photograph? Were they asked to as part of their official duties, or were they a civilian onlooker? Are they also from Accra, and do they know the people in the photograph, or are they a soldier perhaps from Britain? How might that affect the perspective of the gaze?
Number two: for what purpose was the photograph taken and used? There are many motivations to take photographs, from candid photos of your friends, documenting events, artistic practice, and this can also dictate where they end up or how they are used. Perhaps in a personal photograph album, or in a newspaper for example.
Number three: who or what can be seen in the photograph? Think about who is in the photo and what are they doing. Does it look staged or is it a natural pose? Do you think they knew that they were being photographed, and did they consent? Are there any clues in the photograph that give an indication of what is happening, and what does the caption say?
And number four: who or what is missing from the photograph? It is always interesting to think critically about what you can't see, as well as what you can. For example, although this photo is in black and white because the film was in black and white, we also have the poster that the boys are looking at in the collection in its original colour form. So, ART IWM PST 8457. Now looking at the two together may change the way that you view the photograph. Now that we have a closer look at the poster you can see that the Indian and African soldiers are on the back row, behind the white soldiers and slightly hidden from view. Does that suggest that the artist or the commissioner of the poster believed that the contribution of these soldiers wasn't as important? Photographs can show us a huge amount about the experiences of people during wartime; however, it is useful to remember that there's always someone behind the camera making conscious or subconscious decisions about who or what is shown, and it's useful to consider their motivations. In this case, Britain desperately needed men from across its Empire to join the armed forces, and this photograph suggests that the young boys pointing at the soldier in the poster were interested in the prospect of going to war. Perhaps they saw it as an opportunity for adventure, as many volunteers did, or a chance to receive a good wage or have better prospects when they returned home. Many felt loyal to the British and saw Britain's enemies as their own. But this image does not show us that men were also forced to fight and to leave their homes, or the fact that Britain did not always treat soldiers from across the Empire equally.
IWM has a broad range of collections material: photographs, film, objects, sound, documents, and art that might help you build a clearer picture of what is being seen, or the wider context of events. While this photograph tells us one of the ways in which men and women from the former British Empire were recruited, it doesn't tell us anything about the individual experiences they had during times of conflict. That is why at IWM we also collect the stories and objects of individual people so that we can build a more detailed picture of what life was like.
Let's take Billy Strachan for example. At 18 years old, Billy was eager to fight in the Second World War. He sold his saxophone and his bike to pay for the voyage from his home in Jamaica to Britain. With only two pounds ten in his pocket, and one spare change of clothes, Billy arrived in Britain in March 1940. Once he arrived, Billy joined the Royal Air Force and trained to be an air gunner. Flying over enemy territory was very dangerous, and many men were wounded or died. Once Billy completed 30 missions, he was entitled to spend six months away from the frontline fighting, but instead Billy asked to retrain as a pilot. He flew Lancaster bombers until the end of the war. Now Billy donated his flying goggles and his helmet to IWM. Objects are very important for museums, because they give us a better understanding and appreciation for the complex lives of the people who interacted with those objects. We can see from the padding in the helmet that the temperatures inside the aircraft were freezing. Some men wrote the names of their family members across the front of their helmet or the ear flaps for good luck. Billy also kept a logbook of his flights, and it shows us that the bad weather often made it very difficult for him to see the target at night. Billy also shared the fear that many aircrews had of being caught in enemy searchlights and being targeted by anti-aircraft guns from the ground below.
We also have an oral history available on IWM's website that was recorded with Billy after the war. You will find the link to it, and all the sources I have talked about, in the description of this video. The oral history gives us the opportunity to hear in more detail about his life, and the interviewer asks him to reflect on specific themes issues or events. When asked how he dealt with racist remarks during the war, Billy said that although he did receive some racist comments, he was always treated well and felt welcome wherever he went.
Not everyone from across the British Empire who fought during the war volunteered or had the same relatively positive experiences as Billy. As I mentioned earlier, some men were forced to fight, were treated differently to white soldiers and were desperate to return home. These stories are not always readily available. Not all participants of the war wrote down their experiences in diaries or letters; many were illiterate, most people could not afford cameras, or had the money or means to develop the film. Some people didn't record their experiences because they didn't want to remember the awful things that had happened during the war.
We must also consider the different ways that history and memory are recorded around the world. The final example I want to share with you, of how we can use IWM’s collections online to discover more about the experiences of British Empire recruits, is a marching song recorded by members of the Nigerian Regiment of the West African Frontier Force. In the second track, ‘Salaam Alakum’, which means ‘peace be upon you’, the men sing about being forced to fight for the ‘man with a moustache’, which refers to British officers. These Nigerian soldiers have been sent to Burma to fight the Japanese. In Burma, soldiers endured hot humid days, freezing nights, and torrential rain; many men got sick. The song is sung in a repetitive pattern and includes the lyrics: “We are leaving Lagos and that is not a good thing, we battle the Japanese, going into the jungle is not good.”
[Extract of marching song plays]
This range of examples shows us that by critically examining the wide range of photographs, documents, film, and sound we have in the IWM collection, we can make sure that stories from people across the British Empire are brought to the surface, and we can find out more about the lives of people who live through the Second World War. My top tips for looking at photographs can be applied to all of these sources:
Who took the photo or collected the object?
For what purpose was it used?
Who or what can be seen or heard?
And who or what is missing?
Now if you're unsure about accessing IWM’s collections online, look out for the useful ‘How to access’ section on iwm.org.uk/collections.
[DLC] I'm really interested in what Vikki said, her helpful tips and resources she talked about. It does leave me thinking though that some of these resources may be felt to be inappropriate for the classroom, especially if they include racist language or we today regard as hate terms. But is there a way we can have these conversations in the classroom, when connections to inequality and racism are different for everyone? In the next episode of Let's Talk About Empire And Conflict, we will be talking about how to talk about Empire and conflict histories.
[Dan Lyndon-Cohen] This is Let's Talk About, a digital CPD series for teachers. I’m Dan Lyndon-Cohen. In the first episode on the topic Let's Talk About Empire And Conflict, we talked about where there's room on a curriculum to teach the First and Second World War and Empire stories, and how to choose resources to support that teaching. In this episode, we're going to hear from Imperial War Museum historian Alan Wakefield about two sources in the IWM collection that could be used to support the teaching of many First World War lessons. These resources challenge us to think about how exactly we would talk about them in a classroom, and what concerns we have when we talk about resources that highlight explicit inequalities. Alan will meet with Funmi, and renowned equality expert Dr Halima Begum from the Runnymede Trust to decide on three top tips for teachers to keep in mind when talking about these kinds of resources in the classroom.
[Alan Wakefield] My name's Alan Wakefield and I’m Lead Curator of First World War History at the Imperial War Museums, and today I’d like to introduce to you two object-led stories from the IWM collections that you might consider using if you are teaching British Empire history in the context of the First World War. Later I’ll be joined by a panel of experts, and we'll talk about actually using these resources in the classroom.
The first story is outlined bodies two posters, and these are an English and a Burmese language version of the same poster, and they outline the support available for wounded Indian servicemen who served in the First World War, their families and next of kin; and this is in terms of pensions that are available, medical support, and retraining for those badly wounded - for new jobs. And at first sight when you look at this, it’s very, very generous provisioning by the government of India and the Indian army, and it does tend to show a real sort of duty of care to these ex-servicemen and their families.
But we sort of need to look behind this for the for the sort of true story, so we need to consider what was the political situation like in India in 1919? Well following the First World War, and some broken promises on greater Indian representation in government, there was a growing resistance to British rule in India, and the Indian army was a great part of the mechanism for maintaining British control. So, the British authorities needed to keep the Indian army and army families on side, so by offering this support to ex-servicemen it showed that the Indian army was important, and it was looking after them. So, it was sort of tying them to the colonial system, and this is part of the whole ‘divide and rule’ idea, which was an integral part of the whole colonial system that Britain and other countries ran: to keep, basically, minority rule against the majority population.
Secondly, we need to look at well, who was actually offering this support? Well in terms of the training facilities, these weren't offered by the government they were offered by voluntary organizations and philanthropic individuals, who were actually putting the money into these associations. So, the government really wasn't having anything to do with that, but it was it was trading off the back of others’ work. We also need to look at, well, how much actual provision was given? I mean, this is India-wide, so there's 65,000 badly wounded Indian servicemen after the First World War, and many of them live in remote rural areas, and it would be very difficult for them to travel to places where these very few training institutions are actually available. So, for many, it was not a proper sort of offer - it was impossible for these men to go.
And also, we need to look at what was actually been given to them in terms of, say, prosthetic limbs. Were they being offered the most cutting-edge limbs that were available, as was being offered to badly wounded British servicemen? On the whole no, because there was a belief that the modern prosthetics of the day were not suitable for the rough, tough Indian rural lifestyle, and it was also a belief that that the Indian ex-servicemen wouldn't look after them properly anyway. And that was just a thought by the authorities; there was no evidence behind that. Again, it's just basically a thought that they weren't worthy of these things because they wouldn't appreciate them. So, there was also a lack of repair facilities, which was another issue, so even though these men were given prosthetics, actually keeping them workable was impossible. So, this is really a story where you have to look behind the glossy headlines to actually interpret what is available, and to find out the truth.
The second story revolves around this jacket. This isn't a standard British Army jacket of the First World War, it’s a different colour, different material. It's the kind of jacket worn by African labourers who were working in support of the British army behind the lines. Chief amongst these were the South African Native Labour Corps: about 25,000 men who joined and were serving behind the lines on the Western Front, doing lots of vital work. Unloading ships, building camps, cutting timber, and quarrying stone for road repairs; all vital work to keep the army functioning. Now the fact that these men wearing a different uniform probably means they had a different sort of military wartime experience, particularly the case for the South African Native Labour Corps. It was raised by South Africa for the war effort and run along very strict segregation lines. You've got to remember, South Africa at the time was ruled by the white minority and what they didn't want is white and black South African serving side by side in a fighting, combat role, as this would undermine the idea of white supremacy on which the government was based. So black South Africans joined this labour corps, which was never armed, and the South Africans ensured that they ran the show and made sure that these men were living in segregated camps, so they were kept away from Allied soldiers and even French and Belgian civilians. Again, they didn't want any new ideas coming back into South Africa which might undermine the ruling system.
Also of interest about this jacket is the label and wax seal that's actually attached to the jacket. This shows it was what's called a sealed pattern. So, it was never issued to an individual soldier or labourer, it was actually kept by the army as an example jacket, and it would be issued to any company that won a contract to actually produce hundreds of thousands of these jackets, and it'd have to be produced exactly this style and exactly this sort of quality, and that is what a sealed pattern is. Now interestingly, this label bears a derogatory term used at the time for black Africans, what we call the ‘k-word’ today. And this really shows the attitudes of the authorities towards these men, because this word doesn't have anything to do with the title of any African labour unit, so there's been a conscious decision to use this term as a catch-all term for African labourers. And if we look at the actual name, the South African Native Labour Corps, again the word ‘native’ is being used as a derogatory term towards the indigenous people of South Africa by the white ruling colonial elite in the country. Today the ‘k-word’ that's on that label is enshrined under South African law as a hate term, and you can actually face a term of imprisonment for using that term.
[Funmilola Stewart] So I’d like to say thank you to Alan for introducing us to two incredibly interesting objects and it was definitely interesting to see sources like this used within the classroom when teaching Empire and Conflict. I feel honoured to be speaking with Alan this evening, and to be able to introduce Dr Halima Begum, who'll be joining us in a discussion surrounding the use of these sources in school.
[Halima Begum] It's really a pleasure to be here with the Imperial War Museum today. So my name is Halima Begum, as you said. I am the CEO of the Runnymede Trust. The Runnymede Trust is the UK's leading race relations think tank.
[On Screen: Would you use the jacket as a teaching resource? How would you deal with the hate term?]
[HB] The jacket uses quite explicit racist symbols, if not racist language, and here I think you have to be historically accurate because if you omit that history or the telling of that history, you're somehow favouring the racist basically, so you don't want to do that. So, you do have to be accurate and actually mention that the context of that source was that the, you know, the army existed but perhaps there are hierarchies and segregated ranks and so on for example. So very explicitly this is racist, but we are telling this history so that we have a better understanding of how South African black soldiers contributed to the British Empire. So, I think in in some ways it's actually easier to deal with the explicit racism, because you can name it.
What's harder I think is the second source with the poster, where we are looking at seemingly positive examples of how the British Empire was supporting Indian soldiers. And it almost looks jovial and positive and great. And it's a little bit like every time you have a conversation about the British Empire with some people they'll say, “Oh but the Brits left their railways behind in India, didn't they?”. And every Indian just sits there quietly, really uncomfortable, thinking “But what about all the trauma that you left behind, how about that?”. So somehow this poster I think, shows a certain view of the British ‘paternal’ way in which they managed administratively the Indian Empire, but what it doesn't show is actually there was a lot of segregation, a lack of support, power differences, different labour terms. So, it seems as though things look paternalistically taken care of, but what we do know is that this is probably indentured servants; this is probably a part of the army that is not enjoying the same rights as British soldiers who are white, in England. So, I think those sources are interesting because they allow you to look at how you deal with a very explicit source that's racist, and how you deal with implicit sources that don't appear to be racist, but it's hidden, it's unconscious, it's there, it's making everyone feel uncomfortable, and it might even be very useful to deal with those sources at the same time, to show the difference.
[FS] I think at the moment, there is a lot of debate surrounding what we should be teaching about Empire, and what we shouldn't be teaching, and I think it's really important to flip this entire narrative on its head and ask teachers to consider how they can feel confident in teaching lessons that kind of ignore the racism and inequalities of the British Empire; because actually these things really happened and it's something that should be acknowledged in school along with the rest of the subject. I think the very fact that these sources that Alan introduced exist should provide teachers with confidence in knowing that they're acknowledging a really important truth and that these things actually happened. Yeah so, I agree, and I think both of these sources would definitely be really useful to use in the classroom, but I think that before teachers use these they need to think really carefully about the delivery and how they'd incorporate these into lessons.
So, I’d kind of, in terms of the jacket with the explicit language, I would be thinking mainly about the impact of this and that's kind of two-fold. So, the first question that I’d be asking is: “what could the impact of this source be on students within the class?”. And I think it's really important for teachers to understand that the racist language was always designed to be derogatory, and the impact that it had on individuals was to other and to dehumanize them at the time. And the impact of that language itself hasn't lessened over time, and if anything, I think because of its legacy and because of the understanding of that language, the impact has become more severe for people that it's directed towards. And so, teachers need to consider that if that language is repeated within the classroom, the impact on any students who identify in that way is likely to be the same as the impact it that was designed for, the people it was originally used to describe. And so, I think I’d recommend doing some research into intergenerational trauma, in order for teachers to prepare themselves to have these conversations within classrooms. In my opinion, there's absolutely no need for the language to be spoken out loud, or to even be displayed on kind of the screen in the classroom, and instead as a teacher you can simply explain that horrible, offensive language was sewn into the label. And you can also articulate that language is so incredibly offensive that you, as a teacher, are not willing to repeat it, and I think that it would be much more impactful to see a teacher who's an authority figure actually making a clear stand against using that racist language than to hear them say it. Because I think if teachers are using that language in the classroom, they risk some students thinking that they can repeat that term, which is exactly what we want to avoid. So, I think any emphasis that we can put on kind of the negative aspects of that language is really important in schools. It's really important for these discussions to be had, but by forcing students to endure racist language, you are losing the impact of what's actually a really important conversation. For me, as an adult I still find it really difficult to hear certain racist terms, and I suppose I do have elements of trauma from that myself, so I would hate for kind of students in classrooms to be exposed to that on a regular basis without being offered lots of support surrounding that as well.
[AW] We shouldn't be airbrushing anything out of history just because it's uh, just because it's difficult to deal with. We have to deal with difficult subjects - history is difficult, especially history of empires, and we have to talk about everybody's contribution.
[FS] Using these sources will open up difficult conversations about racism and about power structures, and these are really important conversations that I think can be had, and also kind of controlled within school in a really safe environment.
[HB] It's important I think that we bring the level of sensitivity and awareness to the particular parts of history that we're teaching and having an understanding of who it is in this classroom that may well have been impacted by the history of the sources we're describing.
[FS] It's really essential to kind of front load your lessons, it's something that I’ve learned, and to acknowledge straight away that students are going to hear kind of difficult topics addressed, and to ensure that from the outset they know that their feelings about this are completely valid. I think we should explain to students that we will be addressing racism and be open in kind of explaining that these conversations are uncomfortable but also really important. And it's really important to also signpost students to the areas in school that they can go to for support after the lesson if needs be. What we don't want is for students to completely shut down as a result of what is a really important but also a sensitive topic.
[HB] I suppose for me as a South Asian, I find it very difficult to use the ‘p-word’, never mind the ‘n-word’, never mind the ‘k-word’, and I imagine that white educators would feel the same because they're even more removed, I think, from that community than I am. So that's appreciating I suppose, the impact that we feel. You know, I am a grown up, I’m not a child, I’m not impressionable but it has an impact on me still and that's important. And, you know, children's faces are no different from adult’s faces when they hear that word, so that trauma is very real. And I suppose, if we were to have an educator who clearly says that this is unacceptable language and it's absolutely appalling that this happened, but we will talk through the historical context of why that happened could be quite powerful. But equally without saying that this was unacceptable, this was dehumanizing, the purpose of that language was to demean, without doing that but going into the kind of displaying of something that's offensive could be quite problematic, I think. So right from the outset I think we have to stand up against that, and say why was so inappropriate, but then show that the historical context was such that it went unchallenged; this was seen as everyday practice, but it wasn't okay, it was designed to hurt and dehumanize.
[AW] I mean, connected with that jacket there is like a hierarchy of sort of demeaning terminology, because if you don't want to use the word that's on the label, the unit - the South African unit was associated - the guys who actually wore those jackets, the official title of the unit was the South African Native Labour Corps. So that, and the idea is that the term native is being used basically to signify black South Africans. There were white officers in that unit, but at the end of the day the soldiers were black South Africans; a white South African would not join that unit as another rank. And that word is not used for any of the other labour units in the British Army. There's the Indian Labour Corps, there was the Egyptian Labour Corps - that wasn't used, because the South Africans named that unit themselves, and the British didn't challenge the name of the unit, and then they allowed it to be run by the South Africans rather than by the British Army, which the other labour units were run by. So, you know, that's the story behind it, but you've also got that hierarchy of language, so perhaps you can introduce the word ‘native’, because it's in the context of the unit, rather than, rather than the word on the label.
[HB] So, the word ‘native’ is obviously a byword for somebody who's not white, and in that context, we need to say how language can still be divisive when it seemingly seems quite neutral.
[AW] We used to have a card index which was written up um 1919-1920. It’s in really nice copperplate handwriting, but if you look at the index for soldiers, you have ‘British troops’, you have ‘foreign troops’, who's literally everybody else that's white, then you have ‘Colonial troops’ which are primarily Indian soldiers. Then you have, I think it's ‘Colonial auxiliaries’, who are black African soldiers, and then you just have a card, basically card for ‘natives’, which is a card for like civilians from the colonies. Somebody was indexing those photographs back right at the end of the First World War, and they obviously came up with that hierarchy of that's how they were going to name troops.
[On screen: The poster has seemingly positive language. What would you need to talk about if you used it as a teaching source?]
[FS] Okay, so in terms of the kind of seemingly positive language used in the poster, I think that in schools we’re pretty well versed in source analysis, and aside from the obvious caution I’ve described in terms of approaching topics regarding race, the poster source can be approached in a pretty similar way to usual. So, for example, when we teach World War One and World War Two, all schools generally teach propaganda anyway, and this source doesn't necessarily need to be treated differently. So, for example, some schools use anagrams, some schools question the source's purpose or its origin or its nature or its date, and the same thing can apply here to analyse how truthful this depiction of events was. So obviously this would probably involve more teacher input than usual, and we encourage students to come up with a variety of inferences from sources usually, but in this case I think it's important to bring the students back to an understanding that this poster was kind of intentionally designed to be misleading, so if you take it from the kind of viewpoint of it being propaganda, I think it would be really useful for students to pick this apart and kind of question why is this language so positive? And who were these benefits actually for? If this is linked into, as Alan said, the policy of ‘divide and rule’, then we need to encourage students to question that if this was what was being offered to these veterans, then what was simultaneously being denied to the rest of the population?
[AW] Yeah, I mean I agree with that, it is a divide, it was basically a ‘divide and rule’ thing. I mean if you look at it, it's trying to get an important part of the community to stay on side, to buy into the whole Empire; so, the army, if you, if you served in the army, there were benefits so there are benefits of continuing British rule. And you know, you’re quite right that these services etc were available to people connected with army families, but they weren't available to anybody else. And also, the fact that the posters, you know the posters I think they were printed in September 1919; obviously that's, that's a few months after the Amritsar massacre and various things like this, where basically there is a growing resistance and fight back against British rule, and the idea is what you can't afford is for the army to go. If the army goes, that's the end of that's the end of British rule, and we're dependent on basically local guys in the army to maintain British rule.
[HB] I think the wider context needs to be introduced around resistance, as you say Alan, because there was a whole load of resistance going on, and why was that resistance going on? Maybe the colonial enterprise and its time was done, it's over, you know it was something that was obviously clearly coming to an end. And to see a poster used in that way during the kind of peak period of the movement around resistance and decolonization, I think it's also part of that critical teaching of history that educators need to tell their students, and if you leave that out then you're kind of going with the kind of dominant narrative and the propaganda. It begs the question when educators ask us, well: “Is there ever any space to teach history and inclusive histories?” I always think, you don't need to artificially create more space, what you need to do is make sure you tell history accurately, and if you do the history accurately, there'll be the space. So, I think we we're colluding with a version of history by leaving out the resistance; we need to make sure that we're critically displaying practically as many of that histories as we can, and history is not singular there are different histories being told of the same period.
[On Screen: What are your top tips for using historical sources that in their explicit or implicit language highlight inequality?]
[HB] My top tip is to keep things historically factual and accurate, because by omitting something that is seemingly offensive, I think we will favour the racist, not the anti-racist. So, it's important that we are factual, we are accurate, and by doing so we will actually bring in a more inclusive telling of history.
[FS] I think that it's our job as teachers to advocate historical accuracy always. It's our job to teach students the truth, and we are not in a position that we can just select bits of history that show Britain in a positive light. We have to be honest in that, and I think it's really, really important for us to acknowledge these instances of racism, because students need to understand that it happened and also to be able to make links to the legacy of that today as well. I also think that we need to be obviously really wary of the importance of this topic, as well as the impact that this could have on students, and we need to front-load our lessons to ensure that we are validating students' feelings about that, of which there will be many. We need to make sure that students feel open and comfortable in kind of discussing the way that these topics make them feel, as well as providing them with signposts for support, and being incredibly careful with the language that we use because as well as historical accuracy, we need to kind of protect our students in some senses as well.
[HB] In between that, I’d also probably say that it's something about creating a safe space, and an enabling space in which these difficult conversations can take place, and the most effective way to do that I think is by not reinforcing any myth that such language, such sources, were merely a part of their times, and somehow the inference being there, “move on because that was history and that's what it was”. So, I think that by showing that it was unacceptable, as you were saying earlier, by challenging racism in front of our eyes, the way it was used, I think it role models the way in which young learners should be tackling racism in society as they become adults.
[FS] Some teachers are under this illusion that we shouldn't be kind of bringing topics of racism into school because it can be damaging for students, but actually if we ignore this problem within school that doesn't mean that students won't be exposed to it outside of school, and at least if we address kind of racism in terms of a historical sense, and understand where it came from, and kind of analyse what happened in the past, then we can also have discussions about what's currently happening and we can teach students that it's wrong, rather than them kind of stumbling across racism outside of school and making entirely their own decisions about it. There are some things that we've got a responsibility to teach, and I really strongly believe that this is one of them.
[HB] But I wonder if there are other ways in which to make that topic less sensitive seemingly for education purposes, so not to take away from the offense and the outrage and the trauma, but to allow the learning process to take place. I just think that it could be an opportunity to also bring in community members who never really had their experiences or their histories ever recounted in this country, and it's a bit about the intergenerational piece isn't it? I think it could be quite powerful.
[FS] My top tip would be to be wary of the importance of this topic, as well as the impact that you could have on students, so front load your lessons with information about what's going to be covered in detail, and also to validate students’ feelings and provide them with signposted support, and just to be incredibly careful with the way that you discuss this topic.
[HB] My second tip then is about understanding that whenever we hear the phrase that's reinforced around, “well these were the sign of the times, this is what happened before”, not to reinforce that because it wasn't okay then, there was just nobody there to challenge it. If you take these tips, I think you'll open up a space for a conversation to take place that can actually handle any number of difficult, complex topics. And I think it's a sign of a more resilient kind of society if you're able to open up this conversation, because as you say Alan, this is about historical accuracy - it did happen. How do we now actually try and deal with what has been a contested history? And we're more resilient for it. So, I think it's part of a mature process of you know, a society coming together and healing really. and this is where it starts: in our classrooms, looking at our contested histories.
[DLC] Well, thank you Halima, Funmi, and Alan for that fantastic discussion - so many really insightful and useful suggestions for working with sources about Empire and conflict. It was really clear from your final comment that there are some key takeaways that teachers can build upon.
Firstly, I’d agree with Funmi that it's really, really important to prepare your students effectively before you engage with sensitive materials, and this could be embedded into your practice from year 7 onwards. It's also really important to acknowledge the power of the language that's been used in the past to dehumanize and segregate communities, and how that power still resonates and triggers some students today. So, we have to be very careful to acknowledge the emotional impact on our students. Halima also made a critical point when she addressed the attitude and attempts to minimize the legacy and impact of racism by confining it to a distant time in the past: “that was just how it was done in those days”. This attitude needs to be challenged for a number of reasons: it ignores the many acts of resistance that challenged these racist attitudes across communities and across time, and this links to Alan’s tip about the importance of teaching a history that is accurate, and a narrative that has omitted significant chunks of the story, wittingly or unwittingly, cannot be deemed worthy of study, especially in schools.
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How to search for primary sources
Welcome to this short instructional video aimed at helping you to search for and find the objects discussed in the Let's Talk About: Empire & Conflict videos. This will help when discussing these objects in your teaching. Around 800,000 objects can be accessed using the website's user-friendly and effective search tools. Each object has a unique museum object number.
In the first Empire and Conflict video IWM expert Vikki Hawkins talks about object WA 14 – a black and white photograph of a group of men looking at a recruitment poster in Accra, West Africa. Vikki then mentions the original colour poster shown in that photograph PST 8457. If you want to find those objects, how would you do it? It's actually very simple.
Firstly, you need to go to Imperial War Museums's website www.iwm.org.uk. Just right of the Imperial War Museums logo you can see a website navigation menu and second along this menu is Objects & History. If you click this, it will reveal a sub-menu and here you want to click on IWM Collections this will take you to the main search collections home page. You may want to bookmark this in your browser for quick access.
Rather helpfully, Vikki has given you the unique object numbers of the photograph and the poster: WA 14 and PST 8457. So, the easiest thing to do in this instance is to simply type in one of those object numbers in the search box. So, for the photograph, we enter WA 14 enter and here it is.
If you wish to show more than one object at the same time, you will need multiple browser tabs open. If you don't have an object number or if you are interested in delving deeper into the museum's online collections, you can enter keywords to search. In this instance, keywords could include commonwealth, recruitment, and West Africa.
Here's a useful tip: due to the vast number of objects in our collections, you will find it helpful when searching to apply some of the search filters. For instance, clicking ‘Show only records with digitized media’ will show objects that can be viewed online and hides objects which aren't available for online viewing, Also, you can apply these other filters. Here [left-hand side of screen] we can filter what type of objects you wish to search and here [right-hand side of screen] from which period. So, applying these filters is definitely worthwhile.
Oh, and one final tip. Once you find an object of interest, you might want to explore further by scrolling down and clicking on the related objects links this could turn up some really interesting surprises.
How to search for primary sources
Watch this video to find out more about searching for primary sources using IWM's Collections Online.