Using Archives in Primary Schools


By Lois Francis

Photo:An extract from a tonnage book.

An extract from a tonnage book.

Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation.

Photo:A 'trow' sailing at Hilly Orchard Bridge.

A 'trow' sailing at Hilly Orchard Bridge.

What is an Archive and how does an Archive enhance the Curriculum?

This section is intended to prompt ideas and strategies for the use of the archive with children, in schools.

What is an Archive?

'Archives are the documents accumulated by a natural process in the course of the conduct of affairs of any kind, public or private, at any date; and preserved thereafter for reference, in their own custody, by the persons responsible for the affairs in question or their successors'

(Sir Hilary Jenkinson, 1948)

The Cotswold Canals Heritage  archive is a collection of oral memories that have been transcribed, photographs of events, artefacts and people at work or at leisure, that shows how people lived their lives against the background of major world recorded history. It is stored electronically and is still evolving as ordinary people of the area offer their memories from the 1900's to the present day.

For schools, it is a valuable source of the sort of evidence that doesn't exist in textbooks and yet can lead onto fruitful investigations of the global events of history.

Using Archives in Learning

Archives can give first-hand knowledge about periods in history or opinions about the wider events, which may not be accurate memories, but which can indicate how people thought or felt about events.

In using archival material, however, it is important for teachers and children to consider the following points:


1. What type of document is it?
2. Who produced it? Do you know anything about the author?
3. When was it written?
4. Why was it written?


  • Consider the key words and their meaning within the source.
  • What points/arguments are made in the source?
  • What values/attitudes does the content of the source reflect?
  • How does the content of the source relate to a given historical situation?
  • Are there any clues about the intended audience for the source.
  • How reliable is the source and does it have any limitations?
  • How does it relate to other sources from this period? Does it share the same ideas, attitudes and arguments?
  • How would you explain any differences between these sources?
This page was added by Lois Francis on 03/03/2009.

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