Both as a learner of history, in primary and secondary school, and as a young teacher of history at primary level, I became more and more aware of the paucity and indeed the absence of the experiences of women and of children in historical narrative and textbooks. The history books seemed to have been penned almost exclusively by men and by the victors of revolutions and wars.

The 1999 primary curriculum was very welcome in this regard as it defined the study of history at primary level as:

Historical education enables children to investigate and examine critically significant events in their own immediate past, the past of their families and local communities and the histories of people in Ireland and other parts of the world. History develops an understanding of the actions, beliefs and motivations of people in the past and is fundamental to an informed appreciation of contemporary society and environments. (History Curriculum, DES, 1999)

It encouraged us to develop skills in children to work like a historian. As a result, primary teachers become more interested in examining historical artefacts with their classes and this aspect certainly made me more aware of social and living history and of the lives of ordinary people of our past generations.

All history rests on evidence. History in the primary school should engage the child in finding, selecting and analysing a wide range of sources which can tell us about the past. (History Curriculum, DES, 1999)

However, as teachers, many of us agreed with the observation of the Teacher Guidelines: (the) experiences of the vast majority of people, particularly of many social, ethnic and cultural groups, are often under-represented in documentary evidence. (History Teacher Guidelines, DES, 1999)

I found the collection of folklore composed by Irish school children in the 1930s and digitised in more recent years at www.dú to be an inspiration. For the duration of the project (1937-1939), more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents and neighbours. The scheme resulted in the creation of over half a million manuscript pages and is generally referred to as ‘Bailiúchán na Scol’ or ‘The Schools’ Collection.’

Historical artefacts can make a distinctive contribution to the child’s historical understanding and to the development of historical skills, according to the Teacher Guidelines. With this in mind I think there is compelling evidence to suggest that we should be deliberately creating suitable historical artefacts that future generations of primary school children can examine and study along with their teachers and parents.

Again, to quote the guidelines, Simple documentary evidence can play an important part in personal and local studies and it may be used to investigate aspects of national or international history. Apart from oral evidence, written documents give us our best opportunities to gain some impression of the thoughts and feelings of people involved in events in the past.

These times we live in are extraordinary and, without doubt, people’s experiences in Ireland of living through a global pandemic will be the subject of historical study in years to come. What better way to learn about it than for future generations of children to read about the contemporary experiences of children their own age describing their personal circumstances, their thoughts, struggles, emotions and achievements.
Here at Emu Ink we are proud that The Covid Book Project has made the creation of such historical artefacts a reality.

By Kathryn Crowley
Primary Education Specialist
Emu Ink Publishing