As teachers, we must walk a fine line between making history interesting and relatable while also preparing students for examinations. I believe that incorporating more primary sources is the key to finding that balance. As seen in Strand 1: The Nature of History in Junior Cycle History learning outcomes, students are encouraged to develop a historical consciousness and work with evidence. Working with archival records can add a human element to a content heavy course and allow students acquire key skills such as critical thinking and source analysis. In addition to this, the 2023 Junior Cycle paper contained several source-based questions which highlights the need to make students accustomed to source analysis in order to feel comfortable and prepared for their examinations. Likewise, for Leaving Cert students, the document-based question is worth 20% of the overall history Leaving Certificate and can pose a challenge to students who have not practiced working with written sources. For this reason it is important to introduce primary sources into lessons from first year and provide students with a variety of sources. While this can sound challenging and time consuming in addition to the current demands of a history teacher, the Irish Archive Resource have made locating and using archives far more approachable.
The IAR is essentially an online search catalogue that can give information on various archival collections that are held across Ireland. It can allow you to locate an archive that you are searching for or can help you discover records that you weren’t aware were available to the public. The IAR have information on a variety of sources from visual to written across multiple periods of Irish history. While using archives as a teacher can seem complex or daunting, the IAR search tool removes the mystery and makes utilising archives in the classroom far more accessible. This is especially useful for PME’s and newly qualified teachers who are looking for a way to build up their classroom resources or to find suitable sources that would be praised in inspections. In order to become better acquainted with the IAR and incorporating primary sources in the classroom, here is a step-by-step guide of how to use the IAR website with a practical example of using sources:
When you go onto www.iar.ie you will be brought directly to the home page and have three options for searching for archives.
The first is to complete a simple search on the home page. You can do this by searching for any key word, name or place and it will provide some relevant search options. This is a good option to use if you are looking for items related to a certain chapter or key personality but aren’t sure of what archives are available.
The second way to complete a search is by using the advanced search option. This is useful if you have a specific date range or if you have a specific source that you are looking to locate. However for beginners the simple search will usually find everything you’re looking for!
The third way is by clicking the “explore all archives” tab at the top of the website page. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the IAR and discover the types of archives available. In this option you can view archival information based on a category or theme such as archaeology, military and photographic. Scanning through these categories can be a great way to gain inspiration for lessons and find ways to make connections between course content and source analysis.
Once you have found the archive you are looking for you can click into the online page and find the necessary information about how to retrieve that archive. I found the IAR system to be easy to use and showed me archives that I was not aware even existed! While exploring the IAR, I found several primary sources which may be of use to teachers who are looking to incorporate more sources in their Junior Cycle classes. One of these collections was the Kathleen Boland collection which is held in the UCC Library Archives. The IAR website included a link of the entry, its archive reference and some contextual information on Kathleen Boland. Through using this information I was able to contact UCC library at firstname.lastname@example.org who were extremely helpful. They emailed me a descriptive list of the collection and sent me on any sources that I requested.
I think that incorporating sources from Kathleen Boland’s collection into Junior cycle lessons would be useful due to its relevancy in the course. The 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and Women in twentieth-century Ireland are featured in the Junior Cycle history course. Kathleen Boland and her family’s involvement in Irish politics can allow students to experience first hand accounts of nationalists in Ireland. For example, as seen below here is a letter from the Kathleen Boland collection. In this letter Joe O’Reilly provides a statement which confirms Kathleen’s military service record and explains the way in which she was involved in the struggle for Irish independence. While a teacher may need to annotate this to help students decipher the handwriting, this letter would be a great way for students to practice source analysis while also understanding the ways in which ordinary people supported Irish Independence. This source is also useful as the current history course can often focus on the main men involved in the 1916 Rising and the Civil War. By including primary sources relating to women this can increase female representation in history and give students a broader understanding of women’s part in the Independence movement.
BL/PC/KB/2/6, Kathleen Boland Collection, UCC Library Archives Services. Letter dated 22 May 1936, Military pensions
This source could be used during the teaching of the chapter on Irish Independence 1916-1923 or could be used as a revision tool. This source is also useful for differentiation as lower and higher ordered questions could be asked such as “according to this letter how did Kathleen Boland help in the Irish Independence movement?” or “What does this letter reveal about women’s involvement during the struggle for Irish Independence?”. Teachers could also ask students about the strength and weaknesses of a letter and how reliable the source is. By doing this not only are students becoming more familiar with the context of a period but they are also practicing some key questions which appear in the Junior Cycle history paper.
Overall, I found my experience of using the IAR website to be accessible and helpful. While it can take some time to explore for sources and email to request them, once you have sources and prepare your lesson plan and questions these sources can be reused and adjusted each year to suit the class you are teaching. The IAR bridged the gap between teachers and archivists and provides the relevant information to contact and request for sources. While the Kathleen Boland collection is just one example of how sources could be included in Junior Cycle history, there are a huge variety of collections from archive repositories across the country which are available to you. It should also be noted that the IAR also have produced some educational resource packs which also could be extremely useful in teaching Irish history. So for any teachers looking for a way to increase resources in the classroom, using the IAR is a way to get started!
Author: Aoife Flood, 2nd Year PME student