Learning Through Performance: Theatre, Education and the First World War at the Beginning of the Centenary Moment
Phipps, Amanda Dawn
Date: 16 November 2016
University of Exeter
PhD in History
This thesis explores representations of the First World War in English theatre, Theatre in Education (TIE), and Living History between 2014 and 2015. By employing an interdisciplinary approach it evaluates these performance genres in relation to responses sought from Key Stage 3 History pupils. The beginning of the centenary created a ...
This thesis explores representations of the First World War in English theatre, Theatre in Education (TIE), and Living History between 2014 and 2015. By employing an interdisciplinary approach it evaluates these performance genres in relation to responses sought from Key Stage 3 History pupils. The beginning of the centenary created a cultural outpouring and provided opportunities for secondary schools to include field trips and creative learning about the war. Examination of this commemorative period is contextualised by examining pupils’ interaction with cultural works since 1914, showing that the centenary moment stemmed from a tradition of creatively remembering and teaching the conflict. This perspective highlights long-standing complexities in the relationship between creative practitioners, teachers and education authorities. It also confronts the divide that has grown between some creative practitioners and revisionist historians of the First World War. Revisionist historians’ reassessment of the conduct and necessity of the war has led some to harshly judge cultural works, such as performances, for misleading audiences. Yet little research has been conducted into twenty-first century productions about the war and their reception by school audiences. An investigation of these performances problematizes scholarly notions about how and who has the authority to communicate the First World War to the next generation. Whilst the providers, gatekeepers, and critics of learning through performance are of central consideration, this thesis also values the pupil’s voice. Ten Key Stage 3 cohorts are used as case studies, providing a snapshot of the creative activities and field trips employed by schools in 2014 and 2015. Interviews and questionnaires provide pupils’ feedback on what they thought and how they felt about studying history through performance. Observations of History lessons and performances also remove the debate from the hypothetical to the realities of history teaching. They reveal that pupils’ cultural backgrounds, schooling, and exposure to cultural works shaped their responses to performances about the First World War. Pupils also assigned the performances varying degrees of historical authority, some viewed them as merely entertainment, others as educational sources and several as a mixture of the two. Performances brought immediacy and life to the historical topic and provoked an empathetic response from many pupils. Yet some struggled with the symbolism of theatre and others feared the participation that came with TIE and Living History. Consequently, this thesis explores pupil’s critical, personal and emotional engagement with performances, raising questions about what criteria should be used to evaluate the success of such non-formal learning on the war.
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