Problems, patterns, playing with words: tackling ‘historical consequence’

I’ve been hugely reinspired by the work of Christine Counsell in her fantastic book, History and Literacy in Year 7, as I prepare to create a series of webinars about History and Literacy for the HA.

Counsell suggests that, during causal analysis, pupils should consider the boundaries of terms such as ‘long term’ and ‘short term’ causes by creating and testing their own patterns.  

‘Without such explicit, reflective work on boundaries of meaning’, argues Counsell, ‘we leave lower attainers with the weak mechanism of learning definitions or playing matching games. We need to help pupils construct meaning out of complex terms.’

Inspired by Counsell, I’ve rethought my teaching of an enquiry around the ‘impact of Mary I on England.’ This question was prompted by an A-Level exam-approved textbook, but it’s proved to be puzzling. The sort of puzzle that motivates my pupils and I to explore and reach a ‘best pattern’ to describe the consequences of Mary’s reign.

These activities were inspired by Counsell’s ‘zone of relevance’ and ‘classification’ card sort exercises. None of the activities are complete.

I decided to begin with the temporal impact of Mary’s reign.

Next, we consider the spatial impact of Mary’s reign. 

Now, into the social impact of Mary’s reign. I’m not convinced ‘social’ is enough. Can we show all different types of consequence (political etc.) in one place? Or is there too much overlap? We don’t know for sure. But that’s ok. We’re testing the boundaries of the concepts. We’re playing with them, making patterns.

The ‘physical’ impact of Mary’s reign intrigued me. Could Mary’s poor physical impact (her churches were arguably a dim echo of previous Catholic painted churches) be outweighed by her new approaches to the militia, to trade routes and to finding new approaches to deal with the problems suffered by townspeople, that lived on in people’s minds? Can we gauge this sort of impact on hearts and minds? Is consequence analysis tied up with problems with evidence? 

Finally, we play with the relative size of ‘impact’. At this point, we might draw an overall shape, like I have mentioned in a previous blog post.

Molly Navey,  in her seminal article on ‘consequences’, commented in her research that ‘What distinguished students who analysed consequences from those that merely considered change was the open- ended effort to characterise and weigh the out-workings of a specific event.’

 What struck me, in my own planning of a consequence enquiry, is the relationship between consequence and evidence. To borrow the words of Trouillot, much of ‘Bloody Catholic’ Mary I’s impact will have been buried in the moment of ‘fact creation’ and certainly in ‘fact assembly’ and ‘retrieval’. So I added circles and comments to my final diagram.

What I like about annotated diagrams is the opportunity to play with words. Pupils testing the organising power of a word. Pupils playing about with what ‘fits inside’ the word and what does not. Pupils playing with the boundaries of the concept of consequence. And while these diagrams here are not neat or complete, not definitive or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, that’s surely the point – that we’re learning and exploring, rather than filling in a worksheet.

Key references:

Counsell, C. (2004) History and Literacy in Year 7: Building the Lesson Around the Text, Hodder Education:

Navey, M. (2018) ‘Dealing with the consequences: What do we want students to do with consequence in history?’ in Teaching History, 172, Cause and Consequence Edition:

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