Night of Notables, 2017

A message from an admirer

Dear 7X,
From 2003 until 2014, I was one of the Night of Notables teachers every year. I helped to organise it and regulate the chaos of setting up, the lining up, the speech giving and the whole experience. Then I taught Year 8 History for two years and became a mere visitor to the event. Yesterday, I was dreading the setting up double. “It’s always chaotic,” I told a less experienced colleague. “Brace yourself.”

Actually, with you as my class, it was not chaotic at all. You were all so focused and organised. You seemed completely unfazed by small matters like having to fit all your display materials on exam tables, not having a table at all initially, and then later, being squashed into a room with hundreds of admirers. You just sailed right on and did your stuff. By twenty minutes from the start of the double, you had the situation well in hand. I was almost a bystander. 

Of course, I expected no less of you. All the same, it is an unalloyed pleasure to be the teacher of such a self-reliant, resilient crew of young dreamers, thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Kind regards,
Ms Green

Please write a comment about the Night of Notables, in which you respond to any or all of the following questions:

  • What did you most enjoy about the project and the night?
  • What did you learn from it?
  • What did you discover about yourself and your friends?
  • Were there any particularly amusing moments, bizarre questions or unexpected crises?
  • Which skills did you develop or hone as you went about your work?
  • Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome and how did you go about it?
  • What could we as your teachers do in order to make the project better or easier to manage?
The many delightful details of the Night of Notables…
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Welcome to History, 7X!

Dear 7X,

I have heard all about you already from at least two of your other teachers, Mr Jäckisch and Mrs Andrews. So I know that you are curious, perceptive, witty and delightful. Do you mind living up to such high praise? No pressure!

As I grow inexorably older (no faster than you are, but sometimes it seems that way), I notice that, even in the 30 years since I gained my teaching qualification, the story of history has changed quite significantly. Historians keep digging (literally and figuratively) and scientists have found entirely new ways to unwrap the enigmas of history.

As a consequence, while I once used to discuss the question of whether the Neanderthals were related to Homo sapiens with my students in an uncertain, speculative way, I can now state, more or less categorically, that some of our genes come from that mysterious group of people who hunted and gathered, just as we did, but did not survive to see the modern world that we have made. You can find more on this topic at this post.

The internet has also changed how I teach, how my students learn and the sheer breadth of material available to us all. For instance, it was only after the internet became available that I discovered how many women artists in the Renaissance were never mentioned in my old history books. Here is an example.

Since I have also changed in the last 30 years, I perceive history differently as well. One reason is that I have taught myself two foreign languages in the past 8 years. When you read history in another language, you discover that English writers have sometimes left out vital details. Every people has its own story and its own way of telling it.

Unravelling the tangled threads of history…

In short, history is a fluid, ongoing mystery, a continuous endeavour to tease out the truth from all the stories, the lies, the propaganda and the partial sources at our disposal. I hope that you will enjoy the process of unravelling the tangled threads of the human story and that you will contribute your own youthful exuberance, wisdom and knowledge to the process.

Kind regards from

Ms Green

Four Periods in History | Introductory Handout

Essential Terms for Describing Time:

• Prehistory

The time before the first writing appeared, in the period between 3500 and 3100 BC. Once people could write records, they could write history. That’s when we say that “history” began, though the human story stretches much further back into the mists of time.

• BP – Before the Present

This is frequently used by scientists who deal with huge numbers of years and want to provide a rounded indication of how long ago something happened. 

• BC – Before Christ

The time before the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies

• BCE – Before the Common Era

The time before the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to BC

• AD – Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of our Lord”

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies 

• CE – Common Era

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to AD


And last of all, a Jumble Kahoot: 

Panorama of Four Periods of the Human Story: Prehistoric, Ancient, Medieval and Modern Periods
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The Mysteries of History

Dear 7Y,

Congratulations on navigating your way through the first days and weeks at our school.

Sometimes the school buildings seem to me like an old city that grew organically, without any architectural planning and forethought. That’s why they sometimes strike me as a friendly set of rabbit burrows, with little holes and passages leading to unexpected nooks and crannies. If you are well on your way to discovering where everything is, then you should feel proud of your accomplishment. I’m still hoping one day to discover a Room of Requirement…

This blog is for my history students in Year 7 and 8. If you cycle through the posts that I’ve written since 2009, when I started the blog, you will see the kind of work I have set my students over the years.

The first task, below, is one of my favourites, because it deals with a group of people, of hominids, of extinct human beings, who have often been denigrated; yet they represent one of the abiding enigmas of historical enquiry. Over the many years since I began teaching history (I’m becoming an artefact myself), the knowledge about Neanderthals has changed. For instance, most scientists now believe, thanks to the revolution in our understanding of the human genome, that some of our genes do indeed come from Neanderthals. Even 20 years ago, that was still uncertain.

I wish you the very best for your studies at our school and look forward to hearing and reading your comments, which I am sure will be witty, quirky, insightful and enlightening.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

A Mystery from History

Here’s a mystery from history for you to contemplate. How come the Neanderthals died out or became extinct? They had already survived the most life-threatening conditions you could possibly imagine. They were strong and well adapted to the cold. Their brains were larger than any other hominid’s, before them or since. That includes us!

There are many questions that surround the Neanderthals’ existence and their premature departure from this earth. For instance, scientists have been trying for many years to determine whether modern humans could have interbred with Neanderthals. The Max Planck Institute in Germany found evidence of Neanderthal genes in our genome in 2010. Only recently, however, another group of scientists have cast doubt on the theory that Neanderthals could have interbred with Homo sapiens. You can read information on these topics by clicking on the links below.

An artist's rendition of life on earth 60,000 years ago, showing a Neanderthal family on the frozen tundra of northern Europe - provided by Wikipedia Commons (public domain image)
An artist’s rendition of life on earth 60,000 years ago, showing a Neanderthal family on the frozen tundra of northern Europe – provided by Wikipedia Commons (public domain image)

It seems to me that the Neanderthals were tantalisingly similar to us, yet mysteriously different as well:

♦They didn’t farm, but then neither did we at that time in our past. No one farmed until 10,000 years ago. By then the Neanderthals had been gone for over 20,000 years.

♦They didn’t create rock art (at least to the best of our knowledge).

♦Yet they buried their dead and looked after their old and infirm. There is evidence to show that they were already burying their dead 120,000 years ago.

♦You might even assume that they should have been more likely to survive than we were. For instance, they were better adapted than Homo sapiens to a frozen world. They survived thousands of years of Ice Age. Their bones were far stronger than ours. Our bones are finer, more fragile, much more breakable. They would have won a wrestling contest with us easily.

So why did they, around 35000 to 30000 years ago, become extinct?

Words for possibilities
Not to mention: speculation, surmise, belief, point of view, judgement, conjecture and suspicion…

Here’s your chance to plumb the depths of this mystery and go back to the time before Homo sapiens were the only human beings on the planet. Have a look at each link below to view some fascinating speculations about Neanderthals:

Of course, many of these ideas are theory or speculation rather than fact.

After you have read and discussed these sites, write a comment about the Neanderthals. It must be written in correct English. What do you find interesting about them? What information have you gleaned from your reading? What are the factors that might have made the Neanderthals vulnerable to extinction? 

Kind regards,

Ms Green.

In case you lose your “Possibility Words” handout: A Mystery of History – Neanderthals

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