Fifteen Year 8 and 9 students from Sir Harry Smith Community College have been working on an exciting project to learn more about their school’s namesake.
‘Changemakers’ is a National Lottery funded project run by Museums in Cambridge which aims to increase engagement between five Fenland museums and local young people. Working with Pippa Smith, one of the Changemakers Project Team, students from Sir Harry Smith Community College took on the challenge of creating a new exhibition for Whittlesey Museum looking at the person their college is named for.
Harry Smith was born in Whittlesey in 1787 and is arguably the town’s most famous son. Over the course of a fifty-year military career he saw action in places such as America, Waterloo, India and South Africa. Today, his name is commemorated in numerous places both locally and abroad.
The students began their research with a walking tour of Whittlesey to visit key places associated with Smith’s life, including his birthplace, the church where he was schooled and his grave. They then enjoyed a visit to Whittlesey Museum where they were given the rare opportunity to handle historic artefacts from the museum’s collection. Working like real historians, they studied letters, photographs, newspapers and other items from Smith’s life.
Later, Pippa taught the students how to write for a museum audience and they were treated to an inspiring talk from special guest Olivia Townsend, a former student who is currently reading History at Cambridge University. Finally, they used their research to start creating their museum exhibition on Sir Harry Smith.
Jack Harris, a history teacher at the college, said: “Like many figures of his time, Harry Smith has a complex legacy. One of our aims with this project was to address the issue of historical interpretation – how the past is viewed by those who come after it – and the challenges that brings for museums. The students really got on board with these challenging concepts and we are all looking forward to seeing the finished exhibition.”
Darryl Tomlin, Curriculum Manager for History at the school, added: “Many of our students had no prior knowledge about Sir Harry Smith but finished the project with a newfound appreciation for the history on their doorstep. We are extremely grateful to Pippa and the volunteers at Whittlesey Museum for giving them this opportunity.”
These sentiments were echoed by the students. “I really enjoyed walking around Whittlesey and researching Harry Smith’s life,” said one. “It has made me learn a lot about this area.” Another commented: “I am definitely going to consider museum work in the future because I have really enjoyed this project.”
Clockwise from top-left: Students studying artefacts in Whittlesey Museum; students at Sir Harry Smith’s grave; students in the Sir Harry Smith memorial chapel in St. Mary’s Church.