Historical Sound Walks

Over at The Historical Thinking Project, Michael Harcourt describes how he teaches his students historical thinking skills through “historical sound walks.”  He describes these walks as “an evidence-based tour around a particular location that actively uses combinations of the physical surroundings, pre-existent historical interpretations, contemporary, ambient sounds and thoughts from people living, working or passing through a particular location.”  In the process, Harcourt teaches his students how to identify power relations, myths and legends, change over time, contested history, and the ways in which people “feel” history.

Here is a taste of his post:

How do students determine the historical significance of a place? Initially I encouraged them to use Christine Counsell’s ‘5Rs’, a set of disciplinary-based criteria. After some experimenting with this I found it led students to a focus on events, whereas I wanted them to also consider the historical significance of places, even if, as one student put it, “nothing happened there”. I developed a set of place-based “geo-historical’ criteria that I thought would help students explore how certain locations become part of the tapestry of society, and are caught up in complicated power relations and practices of use. These experimental criteria are:

Power – It is a place which reveals power relations in society. Its meaning for some people might have been silenced or marginalized in the past. Perhaps some people felt or continue to feel a sense of belonging there while others are excluded.
Legendary – The place is ‘storied’. People tell legends there and it is used to sustain myths.
Affected by change – The place has changed over time, either physically or in terms of how it is used or viewed.
Contested and connected – The place is argued over and is or was a source of debate. People may feel a strong sense of connection to it, often for different reasons.
Evocative – The place is one where you can ‘feel’ history.