Behind the scenes… Senior History department
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Behind the scenes… Senior History department

February 2, 2019

In a new series of content, we’ll be taking you behind the scenes with different people around the school, uncovering the personalities, interests and attitudes that make RST what it is.

To kick start the series we spoke to Head of History in the senior school, Donna Ennis-Billing, about bringing history to life and the 16th century divorce that made a big difference to today.

Why does history matter?

History is an important part of a student’s education as it offers a unique perspective of the world and our place within it, and gives a sense of context, identity and understanding.  As an academic discipline it also promotes and develops vital knowledge and skills requisite for later life.

How do you bring the subject to life so children can connect with it?

There is a misconception that history is archaic and musty; that events and people in the past have no relevance to the present.  One of my main aims is to make any topics we cover meaningful and relevant to the students, fuelling their desire to learn.

There are so many vibrant historical themes and I am fortunate to have a variety of mediums to help bring them to life, such as film, music, art, primary accounts, literature and poetry. This helps students connect with their own personal interests and experiences.  We do trips to historical sites, which are a fabulous way to capture a genuine snapshot of the past and keep it firmly in the children’s minds – they can see it, feel it and with a bit of imagination, be part of it. I find it is often the small man and personal stories that will really stay with students long after other details have slipped from their minds.

What’s your own favourite historical period?

That’s a difficult question… I think it has to be the 15th-16th Century Tudor & Stuart periods of English and Scottish history. The chain of events sparked by Henry VIII’s determination to divorce Catherine of Aragon shaped Modern Britain.  That period also saw some of the most influential and strong women in British history emerge and lead in the age of patriarchy: Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth I, as well as the more tragic figures of Mary I and Mary Queen of Scots (whose son James VI of Scotland / James I of England would join the thrones of England and Scotland, leading to the creation of the United Kingdom).

What do you love about teaching history at Rugby School Thailand?

Teaching history here is very special. The diverse, international make-up of the students enriches class discussions and broadens contextual awareness.  Studying global history with global citizens stretches and challenges preconceptions; it promotes understanding and tolerance and allows for a deeper cultural awareness. It is also only right and fitting that students explore and learn about Thai history, whether that be about Thailand’s rich and varied tapestry of ancient kingdoms, her lesser known role in World War One, or her significant strategic value during the War in the Pacific. As a school we celebrate key festivals, such as Loy Krathong, which further develops awareness of context, cultural history and identity.

How does history serve the school ethos, ‘the whole person, the whole point’?

What is a person but the continuation of their own historical narrative? History gives an understanding of every aspect of our lives, our whole self: personal and political, local and global. ‘The past causes the present, and so the future’. History helps enrich our understanding, our sense of belonging, our worth, and allows us to have thoughts and opinions that shape our own future.