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William Shakespeare - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – Current Education Programs

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William Shakespeare - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – Current Education Programs

Anne Donnelly (Head of Museums):
Shakespeare Birthplace was the first “LitHouse” to be opened to the public. It was bought in 1847 by public subscription, with help from the Stratford Shakespeare Committee and the London Shakespeare Committee. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was formed later in the 19th Century by Act of Parliament. Shortly after the birthplace was purchased in 1892, the Trust bought Ann Hathaway’s cottage. Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare’s wife.
This was followed shortly by the acquisition of Nash’s House and the site of Shakespeare’s House in the centre of Stratford, called New Place - unfortunately an eccentric gentleman called the Rev Gaskell pulled down New Place in a fit of pique, so all we have is the archaeological remains of the house, which are adjacent to Nash’s House. Nash’s House itself is probably the least known of all our properties – it was Shakespeare’s granddaughter’s first husband’s house.
Next is Mary Arden’s House. This has been in the news over the last few years, mainly because the trust, in its honesty, carried out research to see whether the Ardens actually lived in the house. As luck would have it, the trust had bought the real house - but it was next door.
Finally, in the 1950s, the Trust purchased Hall’s Croft, which is probably the most beautiful of all our properties. Hall’s Croft was occupied from 1613 to 1616 by Susannah Hall – Shakespeare’s daughter – and her husband John Hall.
It is important to stress we (the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) are not funded by government, either national or local. We rely entirely on income from visitors to the houses - supplemented slightly by rental income on the estate we own. On that income we also support a library of international importance, a records offices – our local Stratford records office, a very dynamic, public information source - and then, of course, the education department.
Our starting point is William Shakespeare. Looking at the different ways of learning:
With the houses, it’s primarily informal learning - with visitors seeing the collections in their historical context, guided by living history experts or, more normally, by house guides.
Then formal learning - university courses, school courses, lifelong learning. We cover all these.
And latterly, independent learning. We’ve recently redeveloped our website, where students can go to find out more about Shakespeare’s plays and his life – there’s a very good FAQ section.
And then, of course, we do workshops, poetry festival events and entertainment events.
As a curator, the most important part of my job is the presentation of the historic interiors. In 2000, we redisplayed Shakespeare’s birthplace using, as far as we could, authentic furniture or, when we couldn’t find it, specially commissioned replicas.
Hands on interactivities are increasingly part of the whole visitor experience – family activity sheets, that can be downloaded from the web; and computer interactives (with the help of Mike Gogan, here, of Warwick Multimedia) which we plan to use for education, but at the moment are primarily used to address disability access issues.
Paul Edmondson (Head of Education):
As an overview… we try to offer something for all ages.
We have a programme for schools, which directly relates to Key Stages 3 & 4, GCSE, and AS & A level.
We have a long established program for University courses, which in real terms means international University courses - some of these have been running since 1964 and are still coming to Stratford.
We work closely on all of these programs with the Royal Shakespeare Company, because obviously we teach the plays, and the plays are being performed down the road in Stratford. We tend to teach the plays that are in rep at that particular time. The RSC gives input into the courses in terms of the actors themselves coming in to talk about their work.
Most of what I do though is with the university courses, which is a series of seminars and lectures talking about Shakespeare's work and plays.
There is a big emphasis is on theatre history - wanting a greater understanding of the context that produced a literary work.
Our Library has 55,000 volumes - the most significant Shakespeare Library in Europe (the Folger Library in Washington dwarfs our collection as far a rare books are concerned) - and has open access to all. You don't have to be recommended as a reader doing academic research to use it. It also contains, since 1964, the archive of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Every production that has taken place in Stratford since there's been a theatre has left behind it photographs, prompt books, stage manager's reports - and we use these to teach theatre history. We have our own independent bookshop and we have writers on occasion come in and talk about their work and do signings. And workshops take place in the library using archive material.
The Public programme that has been mentioned offers general days and short courses for members of the public. Anyone who has an interest can come along and focus more on the plays at the RSC, and learn more about general Shakespearean theme. For example, our last Shakespeare Day was on Shakespeare's sonnets and we're having a Shakespeare Day next week on Shakespeare in the 18th Century.
Susan Walker (Museums Heritage Education Officer):
I’m the other end of the spectrum from Paul. Where Paul works nationally and internationally, I work only with Stratford’s sixteen schools and, therefore, a relatively small group of children.
I look at the social context of Tudor life – it has to be related to the National Curriculum – and I use archives and/or artefacts to achieve that. I might start a session by looking at an artefact - like this watering can - and asking you if you know what it is, can you see what it’s made from, how do you think it was made, how do you think it was used? We would explore this - and I hope by the end, having started with a physical artefact, achieve an empathy with Tudor times and an understanding of what it was like to live in Stratford in Shakespeare’s time.
I am at present working on five projects:

  • Children writing a children’s guide book for Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This will be illustrated with a living history CD ROM in which Media Studies students from Stratford College will also be involved. The children will have costumes to perform small scenes – like going to bed and getting up, and so on.

  • Recreating a Tudor Knot Garden – not just history and growing the right sorts of plants but looking at art, design, mathematics and science as well.

  • A Year in the Life of Robert Arden – at Mary Arden’s House – to follow him through his year. We will get to “when icicles hang by the wall” and so Shakespeare does come in, but he is not at the forefront – it’s the social context in which Shakespeare lived and worked.

  • A multi-sensory approach to A Midsummer Nights Dream with special needs children.

  • Working with the National Trust to compare Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with the kind of house that the wolf could blow down, and Charlecote Park, a very grand Tudor mansion, that we think would be quite safe for the three little pigs.

Back at school these things can be followed up further. Looking at the watering can – if the Maths people want to follow up by looking at volume and capacity, how long it takes to fill, how long it takes to empty, why a sphere is a good shape… they can do that. The Science people can look at materials, the clay, where did it come from, how was it fired, what’s the glaze for, and so on – lots of Design and Technology – so it can be taken to all other areas of the curriculum. That’s for the teachers to decide.

John Bunyan - Bunyan Museum – Current Education Programs

Judith Rea (Publicity Officer):
The Bunyan Museum in Bedford is almost unique in that we are actually part of a church (the only other museum I know of like this is Wesley’s Chapel in London). John Bunyan was the 5th minister of the church that was on our site. We’re now in the 3rd building that has been here.
The church is a very busy town centre church. We have meeting and conference rooms available for the local community, which are well used. There’s been a museum at the church since about 1946/47, but in 1998 it moved to a purpose built premises adjacent to the main building. It was a massive building project, undertaken by the church members and local community. It wasn’t funded by the borough. We got grants from everywhere – and the church won the “entrepreneur of the year” for Bedford, for its fundraising activities. Something like £600,000 was raised by a relatively small community.
The museum is well known, both nationally and internationally, and around 60% of our visitors are from overseas.
I want to set the scene for you, because we are very small - and what I say now about what we do, relates to how much we can do on the education work. We’re only open March to November, but for groups anytime. We are staffed entirely by volunteers. I am a volunteer – as is Colin, who has joined me here today.
We do have a very active “Friends of the John Bunyon Museum” – the great and good of Bedfordshire are involved and do a lot of work for us… we do run very much “with a little help from our friends”.
The museum is full of personal possessions of John Bunyan. We have a Library with over 175 language additions of Pilgrims Progress. This is very popular and has a new catalogue. We had the International John Bunyon Society meet here back in September - which made it onto the BBC, which in turn boosted our visitor figures.
Moving on to Education - we now have someone working on promoting educational visits and the educational role of the museum. It was always something we knew we ought to do, but amongst the committee we didn’t have the expertise. Now, with Colin joining us, we do have that.
Currently we have:

  • A Teachers’ resource pack – produced with help from what was then the Bedfordshire Museums Department. It starts with background to the museum. It has activity sheets. It has things for children and teachers to do before and during the visit, and as a follow up as well. All visiting groups are encouraged to use the pack and work with it to get the total experience of the visit. It also contains illustrations of the museum and the church - we tend to sell the whole site. The church also provides all the refreshments as well.

  • For people who come independently we too have the Family Activity Sheets. These are tremendously popular. I feel we should give a reward for completing the sheet – a sticker or something.

  • We have guided tours of the church and museum.

  • Our band of volunteers give talks to groups and societies – this is seen a great form of outreach & getting new business. We almost certainly get a booking following a talk.

We have identified that education is something we really want to work on, which is why I was so pleased the subject of this particular conference is Education. I’m delighted to come along.
We are looking – I’m not sure how relevant this is – to work with the Museums and Libraries Association’s “Inspiring Learning for All”. We’re going to work through that program and see what we can do.
The museum – which as I say is fairly new, 1998 – is absolutely superb as a tourism product. People walk through the life of John Bunyan. They are greeted by his figure, that says “What times I have lived through”. Children love this, often coming back to hear him speak again. Then they go through what would have been a kitchen in that time, a street scene of Bedford, and also a civil war display. Then there’s another figure of John Bunyan in the prison cell talking about his concern for his wife, family and his church and community.
Panels around the museum also explain the story, but I think the most successful thing is a time line, which relates the life of Bunyan to what was going on in the country at that time. People are astounded that the Civil War was going on at this time.
We had a very successful story telling session with Geraldine McCaughrean – her version of The Pilgrim’s Progress won the Blue Peter book of the year. Geraldine also spoke at one of the four or so annual “Friends” events – lectures, concerts, performances – which not only raise funds but also help raise the profile and present educational opportunities. One of these was a Drama programme – a two-man show going through “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.
So, for a small museum, doing its best, we’re trying very very hard – and I think one of the best things we’ll take away from this conference is wonderful ideas to help us… so thank you very much.

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