My History, My Story: sharing unique experiences and perspectives
What do a windmill in Suffolk, a memorial for a soldier from the First World War, a castle in Ireland and a diary from the Vietnam War have in common?
At face value, very little, but in fact, they are all connected because they all represent stories and experiences of students and staff at St Mary’s that have shaped our unique lives and outlooks.
This year, our student-led Equality, Politics and Justice Society has focused on the endlessly rich and diverse backgrounds of our students and staff. The seed was planted during a discussion about the different stories and artefacts that shape the lives and experiences of our society members. We realised that between us, we all had fascinating stories to tell, drawn from our different families, cultures and countries.
This got us thinking about what other stories there might be to tell, and so the ‘My Story, My History’ project was born. The aim of the project was to invite all members of the school community to share stories or artefacts for an exhibition as part of our school Open House event. We were further inspired by the fact that this year marks the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee; as the Queen often chooses objects to represent memories from her past that are important to her, especially jewellery and photographs.
The project has been led by members of Year 12 and 11; they have spoken at assemblies and have curated the exhibits we received, with the help of some of our keen Year 7 and 8 historians. The experience has been uplifting, yet at times quite emotional and moving. Talking about and sharing stories that have shaped both our families’ and our own lives has made us realise just how different and varied our experiences can be.
Two particularly moving stories came from Vanya C. in Year 12 and Kim T. in Year 11. Vanya recounted her family’s often harrowing experiences of living through the partition of India at the end of the Second World War, and the decisions her family made half a century ago that still shape their lives today. Kim T. shared the story of her aunt, who was a doctor with the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. Kim’s aunt kept a diary, which was found by an American soldier, who incredibly found a way to return it to Kim’s family 35 years later. The diary is now published as a book called ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Peace’, and a copy is part of our exhibition.
So, what have we learned from our project?
The diverse nature of the stories we have heard shows just how important it is to acknowledge the importance of the past in shaping our present and future. We discovered just how fascinating grassroots history can be. History is not simply the study of kings, generals, battles and dates; it is about ‘ordinary’ people too, though what our project has also shown is that there is no such thing as an ‘ordinary’ person.
The experience has been uplifting, yet at times quite emotional and moving. Talking about and sharing stories that have shaped both our families’ and our own lives has made us realise just how different and varied our experiences can be.
Alison Gundy, Head of History and Sixth Form Tutor
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