Hoots from the Archive - Guest Hoot: The Hands on History Society

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 07 Dec 2023

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 07 Dec 2023

Hands on History

This week's hoot is written by current MGS Student Ben Welfare

The Hands on History Society first convened a couple of years ago, and was started by Dr. Hopkins and Mrs. Kneale as a way of letting pupils work like a historian, using an archive and finding their own primary sources, rather than using a textbook. Having done research on a chosen area of interest using the archives, the plan then was to create an exhibition to present the information to the rest of the school.

To begin the society, Mrs Kneale brought out various documents, objects and photographs to have a look at and after some brainstorming the members, impressed by the site plans of the school (with much time spent studying the chemistry block in particular and attempting to figure out map orientation), decided that the physical buildings of the school and how they have changed was an interesting place to start. This also allowed the use of old photographs; they showed not only the physical appearance of the school but also many parts of the school day, such as boys collecting milk at break time, a different choice than what is now on offer in the refectory and butty bar!

                                                                                                      Site plan of the 1931 building

                                                                                                    Boys in the milk queue, 1950s

For a few sessions, members studied these photographs, noting down ones of particular interest, whilst also looking at other records. After discussion, it was decided that the best way of presenting what had been discovered was using Augmented Reality. When people scanned a QR code with their device somewhere in the school, an old photograph of that area would appear, overlayed onto the real world, together with some information. This concept was attractive to everyone as it gave a new, modern and different way of presentation, and also worked especially well with our decision to focus on the physical school buildings.

Around 6 photographs of different areas of the school were selected and different members took responsibility for researching through the archives about what was in the photograph. For example, my photograph was of Room 24 and showed a teacher with a blackboard teaching a class. The writing on the blackboard was in German, allowing me to research into the teaching of this subject at the school, and links between MGS and Germany. There were also stuffed birds in the background, which have an interesting story behind them. We then made recordings of each of us speaking about our photographs, which can be accessed when the QR code is scanned.

                                                                                              Johnny Rivers teaching in Room 24

The main problems we came up against was the technology, which we struggled to get to grips with. However, after many hours honourably sacrificed by Dr. Hopkins attempting to understand it, he cracked it and there are now signposts across the school with QR codes on them for pupils, staff and visitors to scan, which are significantly easier to use at the viewer end than for the developers!

This year, we are learning more about how an archive works, and how it is used, and are currently planning another project about MGS and its interactions with world events and history.

Ben Welfare


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