Last December I visited SS Great Britain in Bristol for the first time (you can read the post here). And this December I returned to SS Great Britain, as part of the same history trip organised by the programme leader of the History with English foundation degree at University Centre South Devon.
What was my main drive for returning? Well, as many teachers would agree, getting out of the confines of the college on a day-trip was far too tempting to turn down. Bristol is situated only a couple of hours from the college and plus there was a chance to do a bit of book-shopping too. But yet those reasons do not tell the whole story.
In the last post on SS Great Britain I noted how ‘the idea of finding a boat interesting is not something that particularly took my fancy’. Of course, readers of this blog will know the outcome: I was a convert. I think there is great value in the telling of the history of SS Great Britain (and furthermore, I have now been informed that to call this great ship “a boat” is something of a huge disservice).
And so, I repeated much of the last journey: a walk around the bottom of the ship in the dry-dock; a gander in the museum; a trip onto the top and inside the cabins of the ship; followed by a play in the newly established Brunel museum. Again, my admiration for the entire museum and exhibits is high: a lot of care and attention has gone into making the experience what it is. Furthermore, it was a delight to speak to so many staff members and volunteers to hear about their enthusiasm and love of this history project.
A second visit always provides a different perspective. First time round I was bowed over by the work that the staff have put into the location, and this time round I started considering more of the history of the ship itself. It played a role in industrial England and remains a role in the local community of Bristol today. However, it was also a fixture in the Falklands Islands, having been laid there for decades before being returned to English shores once more. The testimonies on the displays provided an idea of how SS Great Britain was once part of the scenery in those islands, part of day-to-day familiarity. A few quotes of oral testimony brought this stationary ship alive.
Whilst pondering the displays my colleague (the one-and-only Jonny B) discussed ideas of a new history module: ‘History From Below’. Perhaps providing a focus for the students to engage in a different perspective of history with a particular connection to the uses and value of oral history. The road to creating such a module is covered with administrative clutter, but either way, it was the walk around the exhibit itself that helped spark these ideas.
All of this shows that a simple trip can help spark ideas and get discussion bubbling. Plus, the dressing up as a top-hat wearing Victorian isn’t to be sniffed either!