Does money actually grow on trees?

Alexia P. Head Girl, analyses the historic and future impact of trees on the economy.

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. A cliché I’m sure most people will have heard when they were younger; when they had no understanding of the true value of money.  However, is this cliché wrong – are there economic benefits to trees?

As of 2020, there are approximately 3.04 trillion trees on the planet, made up of 60,065 different species. Their uses vary, from being produced into something tangible, such as paper or furniture, or providing intangible services, such as the carbon cycle or retaining nutrients in biomass to aid farmers in growing crops. Over time, although their uses may have changed, trees have always been a vital part of our economy, in ways that at first, may not be apparent.

Let’s jump back in time. The year is 1690, and the global dominance of the British Empire is growing. In Britain, most of the population are in the primary sector of employment, particularly in agriculture, growing trees to help build houses, or to trade for an animal to increase income for the household. As timber and fruits were traded amongst farmers, incomes increased. However, as more villages were established, space that was previously forestland was cleared of trees, and the supply started to diminish. The navy – at the time, the biggest in the world – relied on the timber for their ships; to continue to expand their fleet, they had to travel further abroad. Ships then travelled to America, India, and Europe to gain resources, power, and valuable influence to create trading alliances that are still in place today. This extra money and resources gave Britain an advantage when The Industrial Revolution hit in 1760. This allowed for a quick and smooth integration of the new, more efficient way of life that asserted Britain further as a global power and further boosted its economy. And all of this stemmed from the reliance and resources of trees, without which, the roots of our economy would not stand today.

However, as countries developed, their reliance on single resources and tangible products have decreased, particularly in ‘advanced’ countries in favour of services and jobs in tertiary and quaternary sectors. As a result, agriculture – such as timber production – has steadily decreased.

But trees still play a vital part in the growth of our economy today. In LIDCs and EDCs, such as Brazil, logging and mass production of wood has become part of the economy. Although the industry is environmentally frowned upon, it has an estimated worth of $200 billion annually, allowing many developing countries who produce this material to place money into developing infrastructure and technology further. There are not only economic benefits. In some societies, such as in parts of Indonesia, trees and wood have been used as currency on a local scale, allowing people to trade wood for farming animals, or clothes, encouraging economic movement in smaller villages, that may not have reliable national trading routes. Paper, furniture and fuel are just some other ways that trees have become so heavily relied on in people’s lives, with few other ways to substitute the valuable resources they produce.

However, the rate at which tree resources are exploited is becoming too high. In the quest to become economically developed, forest sustainability has been forgotten. Increasing tropical deforestation rates account for loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon intakes,affecting further tree growth in surrounding areas as nutrients are removed.

There have been recent attempts, however, to preserve the trees and rainforests. In a recent study by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, it was determined that rainforests store around 25% of carbon dioxide, with the Amazon alone strong 127 billion tons. To release these gases would heavily increase the enhanced greenhouse effect, changing the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Sustainable income from trees is becoming more apparent, particularly in countries where deforestation rates are highest. In Bangladesh, where fuel industry relies on 81% wood, the logging industry has been encouraged to collect dead trees, wood waste and pruning rather than felling increased sections of forest. This still allows for an income, whilst ensuring trees remain part of the ecosystem. Furthermore, there has been a global effort to move away from the use of wood entirely. Reusable energy, such as solar power, makes up 26% of the global energy used and is expected to rise to 45% by 2045. Although this means the usage of trees in the economy will decline, it allows for new income sources, such as eco-tourism that encourages more environmentally aware holidays; for example, Samasati lodge, Costa Rica. The lodge uses rainwater instead of transporting water through pipes; is built on stilts rather than the ground as not to disrupt run-off water to rivers; and blends in with surroundings to ensure not to disturb local wildlife in attempts to make holidays more environmentally sustainable, whilst still taking economic advantages of trees.

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. Well, since 2016 in the UK, it hasn’t. Our bank note system changed from paper to plastic, showing the progression from a society that once relied on a single produce, to a new, man-made source. This well represents our economy today and our declining reliance on trees: what was once the roots of our economy will soon become a thing of the past.

Is globalisation a new phenomenon?

Andrea T, Academic Rep, looks at the nature of globalisation and whether with the context of our history we can consider it a ‘new phenomenon’

Globalisation is an ever-present force in today’s society. Scholars at all levels debate the extent of its benefits and attempt to discern what life in a truly globalised world would entail. But where did it all begin? A comparison of the nature of colonialisation and globalisation aid our understanding of this phenomenon’s true beginning, yet no clear conclusion has been reached. This leads us to the matter of this essay, an attempt at answering the age-old question: “Is globalisation a new phenomenon?” Though there are striking similarities between both colonialisation and globalisation, I do not believe we can see them as them one and the same. Due to the force and coercion that characterised colonisation’s forging of global cultural connectivity, and the limitations of colonial infrastructure, we cannot consider it true globalisation. Therefore, though imperfect, the globalisation of the modern world is its own new phenomenon.

Before I can delve into the comparisons of colonisation and globalisation, we must first gain a common understanding of the characteristics of both. There is no set definition for globalisation, though most definitions portray it as an agglomeration of global culture, economics and ideals. Some also allude to an ‘interdependence’ on various cultures and an end goal of homogeneity. (One could certainly debate whether this reduction of national individuality is truly a desirable goal, but that is sadly not the purpose of this essay.) Furthermore, for the purpose of this argument, homogenisation is taken on the basis of equality; equal combination of culture forming a unique global identity. And the focus of this essay will be the sociological aspects of globalisation, as opposed to the nitty gritty of the economics.

Though we are far from a truly homogeneous world, we certainly see aspects of it in the modern day. With an increase in international travel and trade, catalysed by the rise of technology and international organisations, we have seen the emergence of mixed cultures and economies. Take for example the familiar ‘business suit’. Though it is seen as more of a western dress code, all around the globe officials and businesspeople alike don a suit to work, making them distinctly recognisable. One might however consider how truly universal this article of clothing is. Its first origins are found in the 17th Century French court, with a recognisable form of the ‘lounge suit’ being seen in mid 19th Century Britain, establishing it firmly as a form of western dress. We then later see, with its rise to popularity in the 20th century (as international wars brought nations closer), the suit and many other western trends adopted across the globe (see picture below). Considering the political atmosphere of the time, and the seeming dominance of the West, we may doubt that the adaptation of the suit was an act of mutual shared culture. And yet we see the ways in which the suit has been altered as it passed to different cultures. Take the zoot suit, associated with black jazz culture, or the incorporation of the Nehru jacket’s mandarin collar (Indian origin) into the suits popularised by the Beatles. Though it still remains largely western, with the small cultural adaptations we can see how something can be universalised and slowly evolve towards homogenisation. In this way, a symbol as simple as the suit can be representative of a globalising world.

This is also where we start to see the link between colonisation and globalisation form. Trade formed an essential part of each colonial empire – most notably, the trade of textiles. Through the takeover of existing Indian trade (India in fact formed 24% of world trade prior to its colonisation), British-governed India exported everything from Gingham to tweed, and had a heavy influence on the style of the society’s elite, taking inspiration from the traditional Indian methods of clothes-making. Furthermore, this notion of the business suit can be seen as early as when Gandhi arrived in Britain (seeking education on law), dressed in the latest western trends. However, though the two do certainly share characteristics, we must consider the intent behind this blend of culture. The ideal of globalisation suggests an equality that is not echoed in colonisation. Gandhi did not wear western styles because of his appreciation of British fashion trends, but instead knew that it was far easier to assimilate if you looked and acted the same. Similarly, influence of Indian dress on British dress was not from a place of appreciation either, but from one of exploitation. Therefore, though the sharing of culture is present in both globalisation and colonisation, one cannot consider them to be the same due to the underlying intent. Furthermore, as the intent in modern day globalisation is in some ways similarly exploitative, one cannot consider the world truly globalised, but rather globalising, through a process one could still consider a new phenomenon.

Another aspect of globalisation we can consider is the role of the media. McLuhan, a 20th century Canadian professor, capitalised on this by proposing the idea of a ‘global village’ that would be formed with the spread of television. His theories went hand-in-hand with the ideas surrounding ‘time-space compression’ that have come about due to travel and media. And McLuhan was right, with a newly instantaneously connected world we have become more globalised. With the presence of international celebrities, world-wide news and instant messaging we have the ability to share culture and creed, and though far from homogenous we can certainly see small aspects of global culture beginning to form. Due to this dependence of globalisation on technology it is therefore hard to view colonisation as early-stage globalisation. But one can make one distinguishing link. One could argue: the infrastructure implemented for trade routes served as the advancements in technology of the imperial time. Similar to air travel, with the creation of the Suez Canal and implementation of railways, it was easier to traverse the globe. This is what further catalysed open trade and contact between different nation states, one of the most recognisable traits of globalisation. However, despite this, the trade routes did not improve communication anywhere near to the level we see today, and the impact technology has had on the connectivity of our globe is too alien to colonisation for the two to be considered the same. In terms of interconnectivity, the form of globalisation we see today is entirely novel, and though they have the same underlying features, the difference between the two remains like that of cake and bread.

Another aspect of globalisation we can consider is the spread of religion. Religion is an incredibly important aspect of a country’s culture, defining law and leadership for hundreds of years. The American political scientist Huntington explored religion and globalisation in his work: ‘The Clash of Civilisations’ (1996) in which he put forward the following thesis: due to the religio-political barriers, globalisation will always be limited.

But events have challenged this. There has been a rapid spread of religion around the world due to the newfound (relative) ease of migration and the access to faith related information through the internet. From London (often dubbed a cultural ‘melting-pot’) to Reykjavik (rather the opposite), we see Mosques and other religious institutions cropping up. With the lack of religious geographical dependence, we see the homogenising effect of globalisation. This is also to some extent echoed in colonisation. During the years of the British Empire, colonisation followed a common narrative of the white saviour. Missionaries preached a new and better way of life, supposing that the application of Christian morals and values would help develop the ‘savage’ indigenous tribes. This attempt at integrating western Christian culture into the cultures present across Africa and Asia shows an early attempt at a homogenised culture. However, though there was certainly some success in the actions of the missionaries (as seen with the establishment of many churches across South Africa), the aggressive nature of this once again contradicts the fairness implied in the concept of a homogenous culture, and globalisation remains a new phenomenon.

One cannot dispute that colonisation does share a number of characteristics with globalisation. From free trade to new infrastructure to the mixing of culture through religion and fashion, we can certainly see aspects of a globalising world. And yet the forceful intent of the homogenisation of cultures seen in the colonial era, removes it from being the true interconnectivity of nations. This is not to say that the world today is free of this intent, but the way in which our world today is globalising is approaching the ideal of globalisation more closely than colonisation ever did, and there is a distinct enough difference between the two that one cannot consider colonisation to truly be an early-stage globalisation. Furthermore, the world today relies so heavily on technology as a facilitator of globalisation that any notion of globalisation in the 19th century cannot be considered one and the same. Therefore, the globalisation of our day and age can be considered its own new phenomenon.


Bibliography

“Cultural Globalization.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/science/cultural-globalization. 

“Globalization Is a Form of Colonialism.” GRIN, www.grin.com/document/287753. 

“Globalization versus Imperialism.” Hoover Institution, www.hoover.org/research/globalization-versus-imperialism. 

Steger, Manfred. “2. Globalization and HISTORY: Is Globalization a New Phenomenon?” Very Short Introductions Online, Oxford University Press, www.veryshortintroductions.com/view/10.1093/actrade/9780199662661.001.0001/actrade-9780199662661-chapter-2. 

“What Is Globalization?” PIIE, 26 Aug. 2021, www.piie.com/microsites/globalization/what-is-globalization. 

Maddison, Angus “Development Centre Studies The World Economy Historical Statistics: Historical Statistics” OECD Publishing, 25Sep. 2003,

Chertoff, Emily. “Where Did Business Suits Come from?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 23 July 2012, www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/where-did-business-suits-come-from/260182/. 

What progress has been made this year towards creating a diverse curriculum at WHS?

WHS Classroom

Miss Emily Anderson, Head of History at WHS, evaluates the progress of the diversity in the curriculum working party since September, and reflects on our next steps.

It has been both a challenge and a privilege to have been leading the working party examining diversity in the curriculum since the Autumn Term. Ensuring that our curriculum is fit for purpose in both empowering our students to be active citizens of the world in which they live, and reflecting both their identities and those they will live and work alongside in their local, national and global communities could not be a more vital part of our work as teachers, individually, in departments and as part of the whole school. Such a curriculum would simultaneously support our students and ensure they feel that they belong in the WHS community, and would empower them to understand and champion diversity in their lives beyond school. The curriculum is not a fixed entity, and the constant re-evaluation of it is one of, to my mind, the most challenging and important parts of our professional lives as teachers.

As members of the school community will be aware from his letters and assemblies, in the autumn Deputy Head Pastoral Ben Turner asked staff, as part of our commitment to systemic change, to scrutinise three different areas of our work as a school in order to better inform our future direction. Alongside our scrutiny of the curriculum, colleagues have been looking at our recruitment of students and staff and how we reach out to a broader and more diverse range of communities, and at our work with our students beyond the curriculum, in our pastoral, super-curricular and extra-curricular contexts.

WHS Partnerships

Examining the curriculum were staff from the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing a variety of perspectives. I wanted to make an ambitious but absolutely necessary distinction from the outset – that we cannot approach the curriculum by diversifying what is already there, but need to create a curriculum that is inherently diverse. We discussed the need to broaden our collective understanding of different identities (the GDST’s Undivided work has been very valuable in this regard), and to model open, honest and often difficult dialogue. The difficulties of the process of change were also considered, especially the transition from an old to a new curriculum, and the fear of being labelled knee-jerk or tokenistic until it became embedded and normal. This is, however, no excuse for not trying. Doing nothing is not an option. Three areas for evaluation emerged for us to take to departments:

  1. The day-to day – teachers’ understanding about different types of diversity, our use of language and resources in the classroom, encouraging more challenging and reflective discussions in the classroom.
  2. The medium term – creating a diverse curriculum at WHS – looking again at KS3, and evaluating our choices at KS4 and KS5 to identify more diverse lines of enquiry or exemplars in existing specifications, or opportunities to move to other boards.
  3. The bigger picture – joining the growing national conversation with exam boards to make changes to GCSEs and A Levels to better reflect diverse identities, critically evaluating the cultural assumptions and frameworks through which our knowledge is formed and which privilege certain identities over others, to problematise and ultimately change these in our teaching.

The reflections that came back from discussions at department level showed that much carefully considered planning is being undertaken across departments, in terms of the individuals whose voices are heard through study of their work, the enquiries that are planned to broaden our students’ horizons and the pedagogical implications of how we create an environment in which diverse identities can be recognised and understood.  

My own department (History) are completely reconceiving our curriculum. My colleague, Holly Beckwith, wrote a beautiful rationale for this in WimTeach last year which I would highly recommend reading.[1] We have been preparing for major curriculum change for a number of years, firstly through trialling experimental enquiries to pave the way, such as a new Y9 enquiry on different experiences of the First World War. Our choosing of a unit on the British Empire c1857-1967 at A Level – a unit whose framework could, if taught uncritically, be problematic in terms of what it privileges, but which enables us to at least explore, understand and challenge such power structures and give voice to some of the people it oppressed through the study of historical scholarship – also helps facilitate changes further down the school as it demands significant contextual knowledge about societies across the world before the age of European imperialism.[2] Now, we are in a position to put in place major and increasingly urgently needed changes for September 2021 at Year 7 and Year 10, which will lead to a transformed KS3 and KS4 curriculum over the next three years.

To pivot back to the whole-school context, I also met with student leaders from each year group who had collated ideas from their peers to feed back. These were wonderfully articulately and thoughtfully put, often critical, and unsurprisingly revealed a great appetite for change. As teachers and curriculum designers, there is a balance to be struck here between taking students’ views into account, and creating coherent and robust curricula where knowledge and conceptual thinking builds carefully as students progress up the school – areas of study cannot simply be swapped in and out. As I have alluded to above, for example we start sowing the seeds of contextual understanding for GCSE and A Level at Y7. Furthermore, this process will take time, as meaningful change always does, and so managing expectations is also something we must consider. In and of itself, modelling the process of systemic change is such a valuable lesson for our students so this must be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate this.

So far, this process of evaluation has prompted profound and necessary reflection by teachers not only on what we teach in the classroom, but on how our own understandings of our disciplines have been conditioned by our experiences and educations. As well as educating our students, we are also continually educating ourselves, often unlearning old ideas. There is still a significant way to go in creating the inherently diverse curriculum we are aiming for, and I look forward to continuing to challenge and be challenged as we work together as a community to, ultimately, try to do right by our students and our world.


References:

[1] http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/vaulting-mere-blue-air-separates-us-history-connection/

[2] Akala, Natives, London, Two Roads, 2019; R. Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019; P. Gopal, Insurgent Empire, London, Verso, 2019;

To what extent are imperialism and the cultural narrative of the ‘leave’ campaign linked?

Annabel (Year 13) looks at the impact of the British imperial history on the evolving relationship between the UK and the EU.

The Leave Campaign’s bus - From TheTimes.co.uk
The Leave Campaign’s bus – From TheTimes.co.uk

There is an argument to suggest that Euroscepticism, which has been a major part of our political narrative since the 1960s, has an imperialist undertone to it; as decolonisation came to a close, Euroscepticism rose up in its place. There is certainly room for this argument in today’s political climate as similarities can be drawn between the two ideas from an ideological point of view. Nevertheless, the ‘Leave’ campaign has a greater level of complexity to it than merely an overwhelming desire to return to days of imperialist superiority in the 19th century.

Firstly, British imperialism is an incredibly complex area of interest and reasoning for empire building changed dramatically from initial stages of adventure and exploration to its largest point in 1919, where the empire added 1.8 million square miles and 13 million subjects to its existing territory under the Treaty of Versailles.[1] The notion that British imperialism can be associated with a single motivation throughout the entire existence of the Empire is just too simplistic. How then, can we link imperialism to the motivations behind the ‘Leave’ campaign?

There are some commonalities throughout the British Empire’s existence that can be found and therefore associated (or not as the case may be) with the Eurosceptic narrative. Without question there are consistent undertones of British superiority throughout the time as metropole in one of the largest empires in history. Colonialism was associated initially with a desire to explore, and then claim, foreign lands. Humanitarian justification, through Social Darwinism and then increasingly through a motivation to decolonise, was an important aspect of imperialism. Above all, the competition between European neighbours, also imperialist powers at the time, was a key aspect of the British Empire and this is where the possible connection to Euroscepticism can be found.

The British Empire in 1919 – From WashingtonPost.com
The British Empire in 1919 – From WashingtonPost.com

The British relationship with the EU has been complex from the outset and it was heavily debated whether membership should be granted to the UK throughout the 1960s. Britain’s desire to have a special relationship with the EEC due to the Commonwealth trade meant they were rejected by the EEC twice in the 1960s. French president at the time, Charles De Gaulle, determined that the British had a “deep-seated hostility” to any European project.[2] The hostility that De Gaulle mentions could be referencing the peripheral location of Britain and historical competitiveness with European nations that, as previously mentioned, were a key aspect of British, and indeed European, imperialism. There is arguably therefore a compatibility with a reluctance to be a part of the EU and the anti-European narrative of the British Empire.

 

The “deep-seated hostility” that De Gaulle mentioned could suggest that there is perhaps an unconscious bias of the British population against any collaborative effort amongst European countries. Bernard Porter argues in his work The Absent-Minded Imperialists that the British population was largely unaware of the impact of Empire on British society and held a more subconscious affiliation with its principles as opposed to a direct support of the motivations.[3] There are two possible consequences of his argument in relation to the EU, that the imperialist subconscious merely drifted away from the British cultural narrative, or that there remains a subconscious affiliation with the principles of British isolationism and European competition in the British population. It is undoubtedly difficult to pinpoint which one it is, but it is nonetheless interesting to consider how far the European relationship has been impacted by the British Empire.

From VoteWatch.EU
From VoteWatch.EU

The British relationship with the EU has always been complex; Britain was not one of the 11 countries to join the Eurozone in 1999 and only voted to join the EEC in 1973, long after the ECSC was formed to prevent Franco-German conflict in 1951. The economic narrative of the EU was a key one in the ‘Leave’ campaign, as seen on the bus above, but arguably it was much more about cultural identity than the economic relationship between the UK and the EU. The tones of placing internal British priorities above those of regionalist policies in the EU could be seen to hold an aspect of British isolationism which was a key pillar of British imperialism in competition with other imperial European powers.

Ultimately, while there are certainly correlating elements between the narratives of imperialism and that of the ‘Leave’ campaign, it is incredibly difficult to pin down how far it is a conscious decision. There is, perhaps, an “absent-minded” aspect to the narrative that has retained some of the colonial narratives present in the days where the Empire placed Britain as a leading world power. Therefore, the desire to return to a powerful place, as was the case of Britain as an imperial power, might have provided a sub-conscious motivation for the desire to break away from historically rival European countries.


 

Bibliography:

Murphy, R. Jefferies, J. Gadsby, J. Global Politics for A Level Phillip Allen Publishing, 2017

Porter, B. The Absent-Minded Imperialists, Oxford University Press, 2006

Porter, B. The Lion’s Share: A History of British Imperialism 1850-2011, Routledge Publishing 2012

[1] Ferguson, Niall (2004b). Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02329-5.

[2] “1967: De Gaulle says ‘non’ to Britain – again”. BBC News. 27 November 1976. Retrieved 9 March 2016.

[3] The Absent-Minded Imperialists, Bernard Porter (2004)

Holly Webb, Teacher of History at WHS, considers the importance of metacognition when exploring historical context

When contextualising, students are encouraged to reflect on their own thinking process – how has the context in which they live influenced the conclusions they come to in the classroom? This metacognition is essential when tackling some of the more controversial and difficult topics in history. But the importance is broader than this. As Holly shows, this sort of thinking is crucial in our current climate.

 

Huijgen, T. & Holthius, P. (2018) ‘Man, people in the past were indeed stupid.’ Using a three-stage framework to promote historical contextualisation, Teaching History 172 pp30-38

‘Many students may not explain or interpret historical phenomena successfully because they tend to interpret the past with their current beliefs, value and knowledge.’ (Huijgen and Holthius p30)

Tim Huijgen and Paul Holthius present an argument for the importance of historical context both as something for students to be taught, and as a potential barrier to learning. I certainly agreed with their emphasis on the importance of contextualisation. Historical contextualisation is crucial for students to interpret the past successfully, but also has broader benefits, such as the opportunity to build empathy and compassion, and for students to reflect on their own thinking process – how has the context in which they live influenced the conclusions they come to in the classroom? It also has benefits across the subjects – how can Oliver Twist, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or a painting by Vermeer be interpreted successfully without historical context?


Huijgen and Holthius used a three-stage framework to teach contextualisation:

  1. Create historical tension in order to discuss the limitations of present-oriented perspectives. This would usually be done with posing a provocative statement to the class, with examples such as:

‘Nowadays you have to be 18 years old to drink a beer in the Netherlands. However, in the Middle Ages even very young Dutch children drank beer regularly, even at breakfast. Moreover, the average consumption of beer was around 300 litres of beer a year. Did these people not know any better?’

‘View the picture. The beach patrol was measuring bathing suit length in 1922 in the USA. If the bathing suit was too short, a woman was asked to leave the beach. Is that not ridiculous? Should women not decide for themselves what to wear?’

  1. Construct historical context. This could be chronological, spatial, political, economic, or socio-cultural.
  2. Use historical context to enable historical reasoning. They argue that historical contextualisation only feels meaningful when students have an opportunity to explain, interpret, compare, or evaluate historical phenomena. This could be done by reviewing their initial responses to the question from the beginning of the lesson, then using their acquired contextual knowledge to improve their answer.

Huijgen and Holthius’s investigation is clearly relevant to our focus on metacognition. Encouraging students to reflect on what factors may have influenced their ideas and adjusting those ideas as they acquire more knowledge allows them to reason and form judgements more effectively. However, what stood out to me when reading this article is how crucial contextualisation is when discussing the more controversial, difficult topics in History.

‘To promote historical contextualisation is not to promote the condoning of what we now consider unacceptable historical events and agents’ actions’ (Huijgen and Holthius p30)

In our current climate, this point is absolutely crucial. Students are not wrong to argue that racism or misogyny is awful, but they must acknowledge that the different beliefs, values and knowledge held by people at the time if they are to understand why events happened the way they did. Year 9 historians are currently completing an enquiry investigating ‘how revolutionary were the suffragettes?’ It would be impossible for them to answer this question successfully without considering how different views about gender were a century ago. That being said, Huijgen and Holthius could also acknowledge that historical sources often give prominence to particular social groups, which can potentially skew our understanding of values at the time. For example, low levels of literacy and violent intimidation of African-Americans in the Deep South in the early twentieth century means that sources from the region expressing opposition to the racist Jim Crow laws are few and far between, which could lead historians to reach the lazy conclusion that ‘racism was seen as more acceptable back then.’ For historical contextualisation to be most successful, we must understand what views were held at the time, but also consider how easy it was for people to express those views.

The results from this study showed that students taught using this framework more consistently demonstrated historical contextualisation in their writing. I would have liked to see further analysis considering to what extent using historical contextualisation improved the quality of their work, and their ability to answer a range of questions set. Nevertheless, I found this article tremendously valuable as it highlighted the importance of context and the consideration of perspectives different from our own when forming judgements both in and outside the classroom.

Helen of Troy – the secret to becoming timeless?

In WimLearn this week, Imogen in Year 10 looks at the secret to becoming timeless, looking at the story of Helen of Troy through different historical periods.

It is uncertain if Helen of Troy ever lived, and yet nearly 3000 years after she first featured in Homer’s epic, the Iliad, she remains infamous – her story and reputation timeless. Set in the final year of the bitter Trojan war, the Iliad tells a legendary tale and includes characters both mortal and immortal. Although appearing only a handful of times, the portrayal of Helen is a striking one.

 

“No blame that the Trojans and strong-greaved Achaeans
have suffered so long on account of such a woman;
terribly does she seem like the immortal goddess to look on.”

(3.156-158)

 

At this point in the poem, Helen herself has not even spoken, but already has been pegged as almost divine in her beauty as well as having the blame for the brutal war placed upon her.

The strange thing is that once this claim was made, Homer neglected to elaborate further. She was supposedly the most beautiful, but no specific features are described, instead leaving it to the imagination. But deliberate or not, employing such a fluid image was a powerful choice, as after all beauty is so subjective. This ambiguity is appealing to the masses, since by allowing the individual to tailor their own perception of her, she can truly become the most beautiful in their eyes.

In a way the Iliad revolves around Helen, but Homer did not require her so much as a character, but more as the ultimate prize – compelling and beautiful, but nonetheless a possession. As a result, her personality is vague, with the little dialogue she has simply presenting her as wracked with regret. One of the first things she says is, “How I wish I’d chosen evil death.” (3.173) Her words are used just to support her reputation, for the more she blames herself for the sufferings of the war, the more the reader dwells on the part she played.

There is something so intriguing about being called the most beautiful woman in the world and yet wishing for death. That, coupled with a lack of detail regarding her personality and background, is what most likely led other writers to continue it, resulting in contradictions and strange embellishments to her tale. For example, in Euripides’ play Helen, she was told to have been born from an egg – peculiar, but it is thought that this was accepted by the Ancient World. And Helen had become so famous that not one, but two different places in Greece, Sparta and Athens, each paraded an eggshell and claimed it was the very eggshell from which she was supposedly born.

Regardless, it seems much of her acclaim stemmed from those in Ancient Greece. Although details like the timeframe, scale and Helen’s involvement in the war are debatable, many historians believe some kind of Trojan war did actually take place. Assuming one did, the aftermath of it would have brought many exaggerations and tales, due to war being a quick path to glory. These would have served to make the war even more renowned, simply adding to her considerable reputation – the greater and more terrible the war was, the more worthy the cause must have been. And had she existed, very few people would have seen her in person, resulting in speculation which was just another factor inflating her stature. For although some would scorn her alleged behaviour, many had genuine faith in her, or at least her beauty. A cult dedicated to her even sprung up across Greece, just like one would have been created for deity.

But how did the myth of Helen survive long after the Ancient Greek’s demise? Her status was not just maintained orally but would have also been displayed in more tangible ways like her appearing in writings, art and architecture, all of which outlived the people. They helped preserve her story, but ultimately it speaks for itself. Even for Greek mythology the tale was unique, and so it was embraced widely by other civilisations. Around 800 years after the Iliad she briefly appears in Roman writer Virgil’s Aeneid. Her story continued to be told even once the gods in it were discarded in favour of other religions like Christianity – somehow in early Middle Ages Helen began to be taken as almost an equivalent temptress to Eve. Skip a few centuries and the Elizabethan playwright Marlowe had coined a catchphrase for her – ‘Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?’ Even today, she continues to be a source of interest, inspiring more literature and films.

Therefore, what is the secret to becoming timeless? With Helen, there does not seem to be a single factor which can be isolated. Perhaps one could argue it was her iconic story, with her being beautiful enough for thousands of men to die over. But this alluring beauty is also reliant on speculation and mystery – all-important as a fixed image of her would never align with every individuals’ opinion. And so this opens up an important question: could there ever be another woman considered to be the most beautiful in the world? Nowadays, technology would undermine any such claim by eliminating this key element of mystery. Yet this is not necessarily a negative thing. Helen may be a timeless figure, but in the end being beautiful and famous brought her a sad life. The first time she speaks she begs for death, and in the Odyssey by the time she is back at Sparta she has resorted to putting herbs in her wine; essentially drugging herself against her grief. She seems broken – would anyone want to be timeless if that is the price?

Why are Belgian politics so complicated?

This week’s WimLearn post is an extract from Hannah B’s EPQ about Belgium’s political system.

According to the Belgian constitution, citizens of this European country have the right to freedom of language, since its independence on 4th October 1830, and can, therefore, choose which language to conduct their daily lives in. Article 30 states that ‘only the law can rule on matters involving language, and only for acts of the public authorities, and in legal matters’ (Vermeire Elke, Documentation Centre on the Vlaamse Rand, 2010). The freedom of language for citizens also complicates political matters, in which national polling occurs because votes from both language-speaking sides must be collated and moderated for a fair system.

Additionally, article 4 states that “Belgium has four linguistic areas: The French-speaking area, the Dutch-speaking area, the bilingual area of Brussels Capital and the German-speaking area.” Around 55% of the Belgian population belong to the Flemish community, whilst 40% belong to the Walloon community, and just 1% to the German Community. However, 16% have Dutch as their second language, whilst 49% have French as their second language. Overall, this means that for the national government, ratios must be put in place to ensure that one linguistic group does not outweigh the other on the basis of their population.

Above: Image from https://brussels-express.eu/wacky-world-belgian-politics/

Over the past 20 years, Belgium has not seen much political stability, largely due to their language divide. Belgium has a multi-party system, which means that political parties are often required to form coalition governments with each other. An issue that immediately arises when a coalition government must form is the parties’ cooperation.

In Belgium, this is made difficult by the languages that the two sides speak. Before political decisions are even made, the efficiency of the decision, that is who should form a coalition, is hindered. Whilst the regions are able to communicate with each other, both sides have preconceptions, and therefore hesitations to working together. These doubts are supported by the fact that, previously, Belgium has been without a government for 541 days, due to disagreements. The affect the language divide has on cooperation is seen here.

The fact that instant interpretation is often required would imply that the reason for Belgium’s political instability is due to their language divide, however this is not the case. There are 43 administrative arrondissements, which are an administrative level between the municipalities and the provinces. Each party must form a list of candidates for each of these arrondissements.

Arrondissements are split so that Flemish-speaking and French-speaking citizens will not fall under the same one. Many rules surrounding the use of language are put in place to minimise disagreement, and regional superiority. During political campaigns, there are restrictions on the use of billboards, and they only last for around one month. In national politics, politicians can choose to speak any of the three official languages, and the parliament will provide simultaneous interpretation. In this case, it would suggest that language is not the issue, but, instead, conflict of interest. All other official correspondence, such as tax returns, or passport requests, must be conducted in the official language of the region. At the age of 18, all citizens are automatically placed on the electoral roll, and are subject to compulsory voting.

Teaching History

Dr Anna Field, teacher of History at WHS, explores an article from the journal Teaching History and how dialogue in the classroom can create layers of historical understanding

‘1069 and all that: the dialogic understanding of the Norman legacy in Chester’, Teaching History 175 (June 2019)

“…dialogue can be harnessed in the classroom and enable students to create meaningful connections between factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge.”

Bird and Wilson’s impressive study investigates the role of classroom dialogue in the production and application of historical knowledge across a three-lesson Y8 enquiry on the Norman legacy in Chester. Using methods from sociocultural psychology, the authors argue that the students’ historical knowledge both shapes, and is shaped by, dialogic interaction in the classroom. How this is achieved, they contend, remains an understudied area. While the article’s focus is on classroom dialogue as a whole rather than questioning per se, the authors’ examples of classroom exchange demonstrate the importance of teacher questioning in the creation of explicit and tacit historical knowledge. The result is a carefully planned a well-executed consideration of the interaction between different levels of historical knowledge in KS3 pupils, which further suggests how dialogue can be harnessed in the classroom and enable students to create meaningful connections between factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge. The authors largely succeed in their aim to shed light on the different ways to create these links.

According to Bird and Wilson, dialogue stimulates interaction and movement between layers of factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge and thus promotes historical understanding. In the first enquiry lesson, the process gauging students’ knowledge unearthed misconceptions surrounding chronology. While the students could make inferences, it was clear to the teachers that deeper knowledge did not yet underpin those inferences, and was not yet at their ‘fingertips’ during class discussion. Transcripts of dialogue from the next two lessons demonstrated the importance of teacher questioning – ‘probing’ – in how students started to evaluate significance and generate collective knowledge. Teacher questions were guided by student inferences, using an open format that encourages students to use their explicit historical knowledge – facts, dates, events – to develop a tacit understanding of the ideas and beliefs that sources from this period reveal. The trajectory of questions can be traced from ‘wow, tell us more! What we learn from this’; to ‘how can we learn that information [from the sources]?’; to ‘why were they [the Normans] smart?’.

These questions generated a ‘moment of contingency’ in one pupil that guided the whole class to read the primary texts in a specific way. The authors showed that these interactions fostered a deeper and verbally explicit connection between ‘layers’ of historical understanding in the individual and the wider group. In the words of Bird and Wilson ‘in this way knowledge becomes dynamic, changing and flexibly understood rather than inert, static and brittle’, a key quotation which demonstrates the contribution their study makes to History education pedagogy.

Prized Pets

Agnes in Year 7 presents a history of prized pets, from the Egyptians to Salvador Dali.

Watch below:

Is money the root of all evil?

Imogen (Year 9)  looks at the connection between money, power and the monarchy in this short presentation arguing as to whether we can see money as the root of all evil.

Watch below: