Why Study Cromwell?
It is perfectly possible to progress through all phases of the UK education system without ever being taught anything of Oliver Cromwell. The National Curriculum at no point prescribes that Cromwell be studied, and the range of GCSE and A level options also means that a positive decision has to be taken to teach on the subject, it does not happen as a matter of course!
So why should teachers at any level bother with what is an enduringly controversial and seldom straightforward subject?
Perhaps because of the controversy Cromwell is worth studying. The conflicts inherent in the 17th century still provoke strong reactions today, religion, the monarchy, war and political and social control. Many of the issues that were debated in Cromwell’s day are still hot topics. That controversy can be stimulating and challenging, and if approached with care, can enhance our understanding of many aspects of society and its institutions today.
The aim of studying Cromwell should not be to encourage students to take any one view of him, or the past, but to reach an understanding of why he is regarded as significant, whether sympathetic to him or not.
The resources of the Cromwell Collection, supported by those of the Huntingdon Record Office and the Cromwell Museum, are available to assist in the pursuit of the study of Cromwell.
In the Primary Phase
– at both Key Stage One and Two – Cromwell is a useful focus of study in two key areas.
As a famous person. The ephemeral nature of fame, pop stars, footballers and soap actors, can be contrasted effectively with the enduring nature of fame over three hundred years. Why is Cromwell’s name remembered? Although few young children will be familiar with the name Oliver Cromwell, there are literally hundreds of streets named after Cromwell that may provide a route into a discussion. The statues of Cromwell, including the most prominent at Westminster, is another route to follow, and an interesting starting point for a discussion of who is worthy of a statue today?
As a local study. Cromwell should be seen in the context of the English Civil Wars, the massive upheaval in the middle of the 17th Century that divided the English and the three Kingdoms. The events of the Civil Wars had effects across the UK, with some major battles as well as many minor skirmishes being fought from the south –west to Scotland. Cromwell’s own itineraries are well documented and can be traced. A local study drawing on these events can be exciting and a reminder the history of the UK has phases that can contrasted to current civil conflicts elsewhere in the world.
At the Secondary level
- Key Stages Three and Four – the opportunity to teach Cromwell is still there as a local study and in a more structured way .
The civil wars – was England ‘turned upside down ‘ in the 17th century? Part of the
suggested scheme of work for History Unit 8 (Year 8) of the National
Curriculum enables the question to be asked Why do people interpret Cromwell in very different ways? Through the study pupils should learn that Cromwell has been interpreted in very different ways, and that the interpretation is influenced by the background of the interpreter, and should go on to reach substantiated conclusions through critical analysis of the evidence.
GCSE History. Teaching the Civil War and anything about Cromwell is significantly more difficult at GCSE, but perfectly possible within the Schools History Project, as a local study, which is coursework assessed. The local study option requires evaluation, information, and understanding of continuity and change and of the variation of historian’s interpretation.
Because of the extensive and continuing debate over aspects of the civil wars, and of Cromwell’s role as Lord Protector, and subsequent interpretation in the 19th century in particular, this is an area with immense potential for study.
A/S and A level
A level specifications require students to ‘comprehend
analyse and evaluate’ a range of resources including historians debates
and museum displays.
Each of the three main examining boards, AQA, Edexcel and OCR have units
at both AS and A2 level that are relevant to a study of Cromwell. Unit 4
of the AQA and Edexcel programmes also provide for an in-depth enquiry
by the student into a key event or individual.
The issues of interpretation and understanding are again of key importance as they are at earlier stages. The value of studying Cromwell at this level is that students have capacity to begin to challenge the arguments of different historians, and see how history is written.
Because of the extent of published sources and the depth of information available at a local level, it is also feasible for primary local evidence to be used in teaching and by the students, to great effect.
The Cromwell Association and the Cromwell Museum would
like to encourage more teaching at all phases of the 17th century and
the significance of Cromwell in particular.
Teachers are encouraged to submit resources such as lesson plans,
schemes of work or study visit itineraries, for example, that they are
willing to share with others, with the intention that they are published
for educational use on this site, as free downloads.
The Cromwell Museum has worked with Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon,
in a project funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, to
produce materials which are available here.
There are four separate units. Two are targeted at Transition/KS3, and
two at A level students.
Both units include Powerpoint presentation for classroom
use, and are intended for adaptation.
Both units include lesson plans and supporting
information, including images and texts.
Comments are invited on these resources. Please direct them to
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