‘History’ stems from the Latin for ‘enquiry’; for me, it is an enquiry not merely into the dusty and long-since overgrown past but, instead, one where we have the chance to explore who we were, who we might have been and who we are. Never has this seemed truer than at A-level.
This term, we plunged into the sordid depths of the Crimean War between the allied empires of Britain, France and Turkey, and Russia. Every member of the group was assigned a separate aspect of the conflict to investigate for themselves and then presented their findings to the rest of the class. My presentation focused on the Battle of the River Alma. Rather than using the traditional powerpoint, I wanted to allow my fellow History students to get beneath the surface of the events and to live that day in 1854. I created a board game so that we could re-enact the battle ourselves, a re-enactment in which various members of the group faced off against each other as rival superpowers.
While everyone plotted their own, unique strategy to secure victory, with many a cavalry brigade and infantry column suffering heavy losses charging through tall vineyards and up mighty hills (under heavy artillery fire), we began to understand the difficulties that the real commanders faced nearly 200 years ago and to see the nuances (and flaws) behind their tactics.
With our version of the Alma having drawn to a close at nil/nil, I introduced the class to some very special guests: Prince Menshikov, leader of the Russian forces at the battle, and the one-armed Lord Raglan, Menshikov’s British counterpart. We interviewed the two generals on both their successes and their failures, and I hope that, by the end of the lesson, we — and the generals — discovered something about the Alma (even if we didn’t find out what the French did with Lord Raglan’s other arm!).
Harry Dearlove Still
Sixth Form Student