Since 2015, Churchill Archives Centre has been working with Bloomsbury Academic on developing Churchill Archive for Schools (CAFS), a free online resource which brings the Churchill Papers to school students and teachers across the world.

The Churchill Archive for Schools website has been made possible thanks to a $1 million philanthropic donation from Lawrence Geller, CBE. Ben Walsh, who is an expert in the use of digital technology in history teaching, is the education consultant to the Churchill Archive for Schools website.

Churchill Archives Centre is committed to widening access to the valuable primary sources in our care. The new UK national curriculum has helped archives services like ours to reach out to schools effectively because of the requirement to use primary sources. We have hosted many visits from schools students and have seen first hand how looking at archives and primary sources can inspire and enthuse students.

A group of 5 pupils gathered around a table in the Archives Centre reading room, examining documents that have been laid out.

Pupils from Longsands School at the Archives Centre

“It was awesome because these words were written on these documents that had major impacts on our lives today.”

“Incredible- almost felt like meeting your favourite celebrity — I was in awe.”

“History fan girl moment”

There are many schools which are not able to visit the Archives Centre and there is also no doubt that many history students find primary source documents hard work. Some teachers may also feel daunted at the prospect. That’s why the Churchill Archive for Schools website includes a Primary Source Skills Guide which explains what archives and primary sources are and provides a practical toolkit for how to interpret different types of source (photographs, letters etc.). I think the Primary Source Skills Guide is hugely helpful in building confidence – if students work through these suggested questions when they are looking at any primary source, they have the tools to make a response to the source which is as valid as anyone else’s.

Screenshot from the Churchill Archive for Schools website

The site also includes a wide range of investigations to get students using primary sources. There are now 20 investigations. Each investigation includes a range of documents from the Churchill Archives, plus support to understand and interpret them, so that students can weigh up contemporary evidence and get to grips with a key historical question. Topics include:-

  • Churchill as an orator;
  • welfare reforms;
  • the suffragettes and attitudes to women after 1918;
  • World War I (the tank on the Western front, Gallipoli);
  • the League of Nations;
  • appeasement;
  • Indian independence;
  • World War II (the holocaust, Dunkirk, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Second Front, Pearl Harbor; Yalta and Anglo-US relations);
  • nuclear weapons;
  • the Cold War
  • the Korean War

I’ve been invited to demonstrate Churchill Archive for Schools to several groups of teachers. Each of the investigations is structured the same way – including essential historical background notes and notes for teachers (which include suggestions for how the site can be used either by a whole class or in small group work). Then we look at a selection of the primary sources on the site – each source is presented with a simplified transcript and an exact transcript (for example see this selection on women’s suffrage) so that students can access the content at different levels. I’ve enjoyed showing teachers that we have used Churchill’s own papers to challenge some of the myths which have grown up around Churchill (some of them perpetuated by the man himself!).

There is a wide range of different types of sources featured in the investigations. Some investigations feature official and personal wartime correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt (as featured in explorations of the ‘special relationship’ and Churchill’s speech notes (used in “Churchill and the Cold War: why did Churchill make his famous Iron Curtain speech?”). But there are also investigations which use more unexpected sources that document the views and opinions of ordinary people and allow students to consider history from below. In our investigation about appeasement we use letters drawn from Churchill’s constituency postbag to challenge the myth that Churchill was a lone voice warning of the dangers posed by Nazi Germany.

The response we’ve received from teachers and students has been fantastic:

“Inspirational! This site will really help me encourage my students to develop the spirit of enquiry which is fundamental to the new national curriculum. If only there was a CAFS for every period of history it would be fantastic.”

Helen MacGregor, Head of History, Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet

There is also a set of videos including introductions by Ben Walsh and interviews with teachers and pupils explaining what they have gained from using the site. Please do visit Churchill Archive for Schools and let us know what you think.

Churchill Archive for Schools

— Natalie Adams, Senior Archivist, 3 January 2019.

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