Visiting Cultural Centers to Inspire Students to learn
Several years ago, I observed, rather sullenly, that the number of applicants for my undergraduate course in archaeology arts was gradually diminishing. Consequently, I queried some of the most promising students on why they had opted out of my course. I received the dreaded but popular excuse given by most students who opt out, “the course is too boring”, they claimed.
In this light, I decided to spice up my course by introducing onsite visits to interesting and intellectually enriching historical sites. Since then, we have visited several iconic sites and locations around Britain with various undergraduate groups and I have noticed a slight but promising change of attitude towards this amazing subject of our past. One of the most fascinating, exciting and intellectually stimulating trips was to The National Archives (United Kingdom).
Important Information about The National Archives (TNA)
Before choosing a specific historical site for our class trip, I usually consider several factors including its historical and cultural relevance and its intellectual and experiential appeal to me and the class. I usually want to take my class to an excursion which will not only provide them an opportunity to learn, but will be inspiring to them.
When I suggested TNA to the class, I was met by vacant stares and skeptic looks. One student even described the facility as an old library; meaning no outdoor fun but cramped and boring research spaces. To woo my picky undergrads, I decided to teach them some facts about the facility. The National Archives (TNA) is both a non-ministerial government department and an executive agency based in Kew (south-west London), in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.
Established in 2003, by combining the Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission, TNA is regarded as Britain’s official publisher and archive. It is governed by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport and is renowned for its huge collection of historical (and even contemporary) artwork and exhibitions, rare books and manuscripts and national documents that are over a millennium in age. After this orientation session, the students decided to give it a try, albeit halfheartedly.
The Inspiring Visit which Provided a Better Opportunity for Learning
According to The National Archives’ website, although large groups are welcome, pre-booking is required for groups of 16 or more individuals. My undergrad class had 22 students and hence I had to pre-book. TNA allows only one official large group visit per day — due to parking problems — and advises groups traveling by coach to check the group visits booking calendar for the availability of the coach bay.
We were traveling by coach and so I checked the calendar and selected one of the free days. Finally, for a group consisting mainly of first timers (like ours) we were advised to plan our visit for a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday in order to enjoy massive staff support and also to take the tour in a serene environment. I planned a Friday visit and then emailed the group visits registration team with all other additional details.
We arrived at The National Archives at around 10 AM on a Friday morning and were warmly received by a team of staff guides, who were supposed to cater for all our tour queries and needs. After alighting from the coach, I noticed that my students were overly impressed by the facilities’ exquisitely groomed lawns and its inviting facade. Armed with our visitors’ passes and a group of four staff guides, we embarked on a tour of the museum.
At first we were taken on a general tour of the facility; without lengthy stops or elaborate explanations, we were shown the main reading and research areas, the storage/library facilities, event/show rooms, the bookshop and the restaurant. I had booked three special sessions for the day.
Appreciating Culture and Heritage in Cultural Centers
Just before lunch, we sat through a talk show hosted by renowned journalist and non-fiction author, Jacky Hyams. Titled Spitfire girls, the show followed the courageous stories of an elite group of female civilian pilots, who flew British war planes from factories to airfields during the Second World War. After the talk, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the restaurant.
In the afternoon, we visited some exhibitions featuring historical artworks before joining another topical show about the impact of the British theatre industry on the war effort. Based on a treasure trove of First World War records, this insightful event titled, Theatre in the First World War, featured citations from service records, personal letters, war diaries, maps and photographs.
Finally, we paid tribute to the world’s greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare, on the 400th anniversary of his death. We attended an exhibition titled, ‘By me William Shakespeare: A life in Writing’, featuring a selection of unique documents from Shakespeare’s era, which chronicled the key moments in Shakespeare’s life and the judicial events that shaped his iconic career.
By the time we finished poring the extensive document cache, it was almost dark and we decided that we had had enough fun for one day. General class consensus: The National Archives rocks.