A ‘guest post’ by Emily Dourish, the Library’s Joint Exhibitions Officer
Visitors from The Bishop's Stortford High School with the exhibition curator
Wednesday saw a successful event in the Library’s inaugural exhibition schools liaison programme. The Library is keen to engage with local schools and the Sassoon exhibition seemed a perfect place to begin this new initiative, as his life and work are studied as part of English Literature, History and Citizenship curricula.
As part of their A2 module on World War I literature, a group of Year 13 pupils from The Bishop’s Stortford High School made the journey to Cambridge to see the exhibition and prepare some work on selected poems displayed within it. They arrived with a good background knowledge, having spent the term reading Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration and Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and a selection of his poems, but were fascinated to see the ‘genuine article’ in the exhibition cases.
After a guided tour of the exhibition by the curator, they split into pairs, studying the exhibition materials to gain contextual information about the poems they had been assigned, before giving a new reading to the rest of the group along with an explanation of what they had discovered in the display. Several said they gained a whole new understanding of their poems by seeing, for example, Sassoon’s diary entries written around the time of the composition of Died of Wounds.
Overall the visit was considered a great success, both by the teachers with the group but more importantly by the students themselves who felt they had seen more of the man himself than their previous reading had been able to offer. They rounded off their trip by braving the elements on a walk to Grantchester, fuelled by the prospect not just of a visit to the Rupert Brooke Museum, but of course also of scones and tea.
A ‘guest post’ by Hannah Haines of the Library’s Entrance Hall staff.
The 'Dream Voices' teaching resource in the Exhibition Centre
The history and literature of the Great War has been a topic on the GCSE syllabus for many years, and from the outset of planning the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition, we were aware of the potential for involving local schools in the Sassoon project. Making the subject of conflict accessible to the 13–16 age group presents challenges, but by inviting pupils to engage with original historical sources, we hope to show how archival research can inspire lively insights into material they may have only seen printed in textbooks.
In order to maximise the appeal of an exhibition visit to teachers, we have put together a resource pack that highlights particular items from the collection and suggests discussion points to tie the visit to the curriculum requirements. We identified key themes that would be relevant to studies in English Literature, History and Citizenship, such as depictions of trench warfare, Sassoon’s anti-War protest of 1917, and the concepts of patriotism and remembrance. Although the process of writing the pack began before the exhibition was assembled, some of Sassoon’s best-known works presented themselves as suitable source material. There was an amount of adjustment to be done once the CD of exhibition images arrived (my first, excited, viewing of the archive!) – for instance, Sassoon’s sketch of a memorial statue to be erected in Cambridge adds a great visual element to discussions of how people can be encouraged to remember and commemorate war.
These packs have been dispatched to a number of teachers, and we hope that the result will be a number of small group visits in the Michaelmas Term that will take in the exhibition and suggested follow-up activities.