A New Curriculum for Hull – Usable Past in Action

By Rebecca Nelson, Wilberforce Institute

Since September I’ve been working as an intern with Hull’s Heritage Learning team. They are responsible for the educational offers across the museum sites in Hull, working with schools from the local area and beyond. For 2017, coinciding with the City of Culture programme, Heritage Learning are launching a new history curriculum for schools in the Hull area. This explores the history of Hull from its origins in the medieval period, to the modern day, through key events and characters. Teachers were consulted about the topics they wanted to see on the curriculum, with an original list of over 150 being whittled down to just 20.

The list of topics includes Hull Fair, both World Wars and a look at the development of the city and its docks. Each topic is then divided into sections which form a series of lessons for teachers. Within these sessions there is historical information, links to further reading, ideas for classroom activities and examples of primary sources from the museum collections. I did lots of the preliminary research for these histories, using the skills I’ve developed doing my PhD, as well as identifying relevant sources from the collections.

Rebecca Hull Education 2
An early photograph of Wilberforce House. The house was purchased by Hull City Council in 1896 and was opened as a museum in 1906, with a large collection of William Wilberforce’s personal effects © Hull Museums: Wilberforce House

Of course one topic which couldn’t be left out is the story of Hull’s ‘most famous son’ and renowned antislavery campaigner William Wilberforce. The curriculum looks at his early life in Hull, his campaign against the slave trade, and his legacy. Much of the information came from the displays at the Wilberforce House Museum, as did the examples of primary source material. These include early sketches of Wilberforce House, portraits of the man himself, contemporary newspaper articles relating to the antislavery campaign and instruments of brutality from plantations. However, the ideas for suggested teaching activities linked to Wilberforce stretch far beyond history. Teachers are encouraged to have rights-based class discussions for citizenship, look at trade routes and maps for geography, understand about how the poor conditions experienced by the enslaved affected health and the human body for science, and develop the children’s art skills with sessions on antislavery porcelain designs.

Rebecca Wilberforce story
A rare leaflet from the 1920s petitioning citizens of Hull to continue to object to slavery around the world. © Hull Museums: Wilberforce House

The Hull Curriculum is a new initiative, having only been introduced once elsewhere in the UK (in Bristol). Children are given the opportunity to develop their understanding of the past through the whole spectrum of subjects on the curriculum. In addition, they are given experiences which make the past relevant to the present. Here, antislavery becomes a vehicle for exploring human rights, ideas of freedom and equality, the abhorrent nature of racism – all of which are extremely pertinent in today’s society, locally in Hull and around the world.

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