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Louise

Louise Zarmati

Year of Award: 2012 Award State: New South Wales Education > Secondary
Science > General
To study innovative museum and heritage education programs that use archaeological excavation methods to engage primary and secondary students in the study of history - UK, Ireland, Croatia, USA
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As an inquisitive fourteen year-old with an avid interest in reading, I decided one day to read my mother’s musty old 1950s edition of the popular classic, Gods, Graves and Scholars by C.W. Ceram. As a result, I immediately fell in love with archaeology, and chose to study Ancient History for the NSW Higher School Certificate in the hope that I would learn more about great archaeological discoveries of the ancient world, such as the Tomb of Tutankhamun and the Royal Graves at Ur.

Unfortunately this was not the case because until 1982, the Ancient History course taught in NSW schools used what has now become known as a text-based, ‘dead, white males’ approach to history. Designed by Classics and Ancient History university academics, the course was modelled on the Anglo-American ‘classical tradition’ of reading the texts of ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Cicero in English translation. Although I enjoyed the course and did very well in my final examination, I found the arcane language of the ancient (male) writers, and their modern commentators, such as Bury, Hammond and Scullard, hard going, even for an enthusiastic, teenage History geek.

Thankfully, I was able to study Archaeology in my undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney, and to my surprise and great delight, by the time I started teaching history in secondary schools in the 1980s, Ancient History had undergone a radical change. In 1981 a new syllabus was devised that offered teachers a choice of approaches and topics: either ‘Archaeological Evidence’, or ‘Written Evidence’, and new topics from four geographical areas – ancient Egypt, Assyria, Israel and Persia. For ten years, as candidate numbers slowly but steadily grew, the popularity of this new approach became apparent. Then in 1995, written and archaeological sources were amalgamated into a single course. This new integrated syllabus proved to be even more popular with teachers and students, and it is this approach to the study of history which characterises the vibrant and exciting Ancient History course we teach in NSW today.

The increasing number of students who choose to study Ancient History for the NSW Higher School Certificate is testimony to the popularity and success of this holistic approach. In 2006, when the compulsory Core Study ‘Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum’ was introduced, candidate numbers jumped by 1000 from the previous year.[1]

In 2012, over 12,000 students chose to study Ancient History, and Ancient History became the sixth most popular elective subject studied for the HSC.

This integrated approach had a positive flow-on effect into the teaching of junior history, as the Ancient History teachers were also teaching history to Years 7 to 10 students. And in 2004 Queensland also introduced a senior Ancient History course with a substantial archaeology component.[2]

Once teachers started using archaeological sources in the classroom it became apparent that it would be a good idea to take their students out of the classroom to see and experience archaeological artefacts firsthand. For this reason, hands-on, inquiry-based archaeology programs were developed at the Museum of Ancient Cultures, Macquarie University (formerly the Macquarie Ancient History Teaching Collection) and the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney, and they became very popular with Ancient History teachers and students.[3]

Many teachers also took their students overseas to visit archaeological sites in Egypt, Greece and Italy. With the introduction of the Ancient History Core study of ‘The Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum’ in 2006 [4], travel providers like Academy Travel, who specialise in providing curriculum-linked ancient history tours for teachers and students, have blossomed.[5]

But a desire to visit archaeological sites closer to home also began to emerge as teachers became more aware of archaeological excavations in Australia. For example, the overwhelming public interest in the 1994 Cumberland Street excavation in The Rocks, Sydney led Sydney Foreshore Authority (now Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority) to employ me in 1995 to design and present an archaeology education program for schools and the public for the nearby Dawes Point excavation.

Then in 2006, in order to encourage students to visit an authentic Australian archaeological site (for much less expense than a trip to Europe), The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre, was constructed on the Cumberland Street excavation in The Rocks as part of Sydney Harbour YHA. It was opened in 2009, and students can now visit a ‘real’ archaeological site and participate in educator-led inquiry learning activities that allow them to handle authentic archaeological artefacts from the site.[6]

In response to market surveys and focus group questionnaires taken in 2008, a simulated archaeological dig was provided at The Big Dig for students. But due to the restricted space inside the new building, only primary school students (Kindergarten to Year 4) could be safely accommodated in the space. As education consultant and designer of The Big Dig archaeology education programs, it was this logistical problem that prompted me to apply for a Churchill Fellowship. I hoped to locate practical examples from other archaeological sites and museums overseas that might provide a workable solution to our problem at The Big Dig. Therefore, the purpose of my research was to examine innovative, successful museum and heritage education programs that use archaeological excavation methods to engage primary and secondary students in the study of history in order to see if those models would be applicable to The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre. The information gathered would not only be of use to this specific archaeological site, but to other sites and other professionals interested in introducing innovative, hands-on archaeology to the teaching of history.

I also believe that this knowledge can be put to good use in a wider, national context. It is well-known in teaching, academic and political circles that Australian students do not like Australian history.[7] In his 2006 Australia Day address to the National Press Club, then Prime Minister John Howard laid the blame at the feet of history teachers, because he believed that they themselves did not like Australian history and therefore were not enthusiastic about teaching it.[8]

Another aim of this research was to find examples of how archaeology can be successfully employed to teach history to children and apply those ideas to the teaching of Australian history; in other words, use ancient history pedagogies to teach modern history. Increased numbers in Ancient History in NSW have shown that students are engaged by the inherently novel and mysterious nature of archaeology. The time is now ripe to integrate this approach into the new Australian Curriculum: History, which will be taught in all Australian jurisdictions from Kindergarten to Year 10 by 2015. Hopefully, teachers can use archaeology to get students interested in Australian history and produce a new generation of Australian citizens who have a much more positive view of Australian history and our cultural heritage. 

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Endnotes

  1. In 2005 there were 10, 336 candidates and in 2006, 11, 495 candidates. Source NSW Board of Studies, http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/bos_stats/.
  2. Queensland Ancient History Syllabus, 2004, Queensland Studies Authority, http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/2047.html.
  3. In 1992 I developed the archaeology education program at the Nicholson Museum and it is still operating in
  4. New South Wales Board of Studies, 2009, Stage 6 Ancient History syllabus. http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/pdf_doc/ancient-history-st6-syl-from2010.pdf.
  5. See Academy Travel School Tours, http://schools.academytravel.com.au/. Accessed 29 August 2013.
  6. See The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre, http://www.thebigdig.com.au/. Accessed 29 August 2013.
  7. Clark, A. 2008, History’s children: history wars in the classroom. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
  8. Howard, JW 2006, Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP, address to the National Press Club, Great Hall, Parliament House, http://australianpolitics.com/2006/01/25/john-howard-australia-day-address.html. Accessed 28 August 2013.
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