A history of World War 1 through a range of objects

What can a collection of artefacts reveal about how people experienced the First World War?

Helen Snelson

Brass tobacco box given by Princess Mary to the British troops

The aim of this learning activity is for students to research, and set in their historical context, a number of objects (artefacts) from World War 1, in order to reveal something of what it was like to experience the war. In 2010, Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, delivered a programme for BBC Radio 4 called ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ (for reference, see teacher material). He says of objects: “With objects, we do of course have structures of expertise – archaeological, scientific, anthropological – which allow us to ask critical questions. But we have to add to that a considerable leap of the imagination, returning the artefact to its former life, engaging with it as generously, as poetically, as we can in the hope of winning the insights it may deliver.” This learning activity is designed to enable your students to adopt a similar approach. They, or you, can choose any number of objects to form their collection. The aim is to understand what each object, and the objects as a collection, reveal about people’s experience of the War. The process of selecting objects, setting them in their historical context to use them as historical evidence, and thus producing an interpretation, involves your students practising the skills and dispositions of the discipline of history. It should be clear to them that the interpretation they produce is as a result of the sources they have selected to use as evidence. The curation process models the way a historian works.