How do we educate children about history? If we think children should share an adult’s passion for history, how do we inspire the historical imagination in a younger generation?
As someone who has devoted much of his adult life to the formal and formal study of history, I can discuss (even expound) with great confidence about various historical eras, events and concepts. But where did this knowledge and appreciation of such events and concepts come from?
Prominent in my mind are a number of books, short TV series and movies that captured my childhood imagination. I’m indebted to these sources for nurturing and expanding my historical imagination. I will reflect on just a few of them over a series of blog entries.
This week (6 May) records the birth of the children’s illustrator, Edward Osmond. To me, his most notable work is ‘A Valley Grows Up’ , for which he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature in 1953. Through his vivid illustrations, Osmond taught me about ‘landscape archaeology’ decades before I had even heard of the term (thankyou Mick Ashton and Time Team).
In ‘A Valley Grows Up’, Osmond integrates insights from multiple disciplines (geography, history, economics etc.) to tell the story of a fictional valley in southern England. Conventional history generally focusses on an individual or group of people. The physical landscape that they dwell within can often seem incidental. However, Osmond turned this concept on its head – he used his fictional valley as the (relatively) static reference point for demonstrating historical changes in a way intelligible to children. From a single vantage point above the valley, we see the human layer to the valley change with each successive era from Neolithic times to late Victorian times. In re-reading his book as an adult, his principles of landscape history are clear – assuming sufficient numbers of people in a given geographical area, people will always try to exploit the land in much the same ways. Fields will be placed in much the same place; houses will be placed in much the same place; and river fords and similar transport intersections will always attract trade and settlement. In a modern real estate context, we might also say ‘Location, location, location’.I must confess, however intriguing the book was for me as a child, I did not fully appreciate Osmond’s teachings until I re-read his book as an adult. In his pages we read a truly inter-disciplinary approach to the study of history and landscape. Even in the 21st Century, I would regard ‘A Valley grows Up’ as a revolutionary text for the study of history. I recommend it to any budding historian.
I will continue this theme in a series of occasional blogs – watch out for my reflections on the Asterix books, Rosemary Sutcliff and others.
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‘A Valley Grows Up’ Book cover
Edward Osmond, author & illustrator
Published by Oxford University Press, 1953
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