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Why do we always do ‘why’ first?

This comes into the category of being a brief thought but also a serious one.

It cropped up again (in 2011) when I was preparing my SHP Conference session on the Civil War and was pondering how to begin. The one obvious thought was that beginning with ‘why did the Civil War break out?’ was the most likely way to kill interest and the same seems true for almost any historical event. How can we expect students of any age to be really motivated to explore the reasons for an event when they have only the haziest notion of what that event entailed?

I’ve harangued people many times on this in the specific context of the English Reformation – the best starter is the Dissolution and the Pilgrimage of Grace, focussing on the experience of individuals and then exploring the causes of these events, going back to Luther, the condition of the church etc. Now I suspect this is of true of all the events we set out to explain, the Norman Conquest, the Great War etc etc  and definitely the Civil War so while it takes a bit of mental rejuggling on our part maybe leaving ‘causes’ until after the event may improve students’ motivation and interest?

How did I begin the Civil War session? With the story of the Civil War in Leeds, so creating a sequence of local, national, causation, consequences – though you might even swap the last two round! – see the activity on this site [ here ].