"Oxford: the War and the World, 1914 - 9" Exhibition Project

Year Eight History students were privileged to welcome University of Oxford researcher, Hanna Smyth, to introduce the exhibition that she has been helping to create: Oxford: the War and the World, 1914 – 9. This touring exhibition is coming to Cheney School’s Rumble Museum as one of its venues in December. It tells twelve stories of individuals who were involved in World War One in some way, and who have some connection to Oxford. Year Eight students will be involved in creating a guidebook for this exhibition in the coming weeks!

Hanna started by asking everyone to think about what a museum has to think about when it is putting on an exhibition. She pointed out that one of the key things to think about is editing, and how to take the information that you have, and shape it into an interesting exhibition that is appropriate to the audience. She asked the students what the difference between memory and history was, and some said that memory was an opinion and personal and living, whereas history was impartial and collective and continued through time. Hanna asked everyone to be aware, as the group begins to work on our own display boards project, that memories, history and museums are never neutral. They all have a perspective, and they all choose to include some things and overlook others.

The groups were then each given various pieces of information about Hardit Singh Malik, who is featured as one of the twelve stories, and was the first Indian to serve as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps of the First World War. Malik came from a wealthy Sikh family from current day Pakistan. He had been schooled in England, and attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied European History. He applied to be an officer when War broke out, but was rejected on the grounds of his race. The French did not have such policies, so he was accepted as a pilot in the French force. His tutor from Balliol than took up his case and wrote to complain, successfully, that Malik had been rejected from the British forces on unreasonable grounds. After the War, Malik went on to become Prime Minister of India’s Patiala State, Indian High Commissioner to Canada, and Indian Ambassador to France.

As well as this and more information, each table was given a theme to focus on, and asked to write a paragraph about him. The themes were: immigration, racial inequality, aviation, his life after the War, and finally, Oxford.

The students spent some time discussing in groups and reading the information before coming up with your sentences, which they then read to the class. They discovered that it was difficult to choose which bits to use, and in some cases, difficult to find the information, when it was spread across many documents. The Oxford theme group noticed that it was difficult to work with small amounts of information. Hanna had pointed out earlier that this would be one of the challenges, as sometimes museum exhibition creators have very little to go on, and simply have to state that they do not know very much about a particular person or thing or part of history.

The session was a fascinating introduction to an exhibition that we are delighted to be hosting at the Rumble Museum next month.

We are very grateful to Hanna for her brilliant session!