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Children of the (French) Revolution

Lego French revolution

The research of Dr Katherine Astbury was put forward as a Modern Language and Linguistics Impact Case Study as part of the University of Warwick's submissions to the Research Excellence Framework, 2014. Her research into responses to the trauma of the French Revolution as revealed in contemporary printed images and fiction has brought a greater awareness of the ramifications of the Revolution among the broader public, improved the knowledge-base of heritage industry staff, and supported teaching in schools. In this article from 2013, Dr Astbury shares this short Lego-based French Revolution animation, made by several school children from Allesley Primary School in Coventry, after their visit to Warwick. The video is designed to demonstrate their understanding of researching the French Revolution.

Whilst research and higher education form a central part of what Warwick does, it’s not all that takes place on and around the University's campus. In February, around 40 pupils from five local primary schools took part in the Warwick Young Student Researcher Scheme, with the day’s theme being ‘The French Revolution: democracy and the media.’

The year five and six pupils spent the day visiting Warwick’s Department of French Studies and working with academics like Dr Katherine Astbury, who has been researching a series of prints from the French Revolution, held at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire.

“Adapting my research for the under-12s was a challenge but, fortunately, I had help from a Warwickshire secondary school teacher, Andy Holland, who worked with me to design the teaching sessions,” explained Katherine. “The pupils' visual literacy was very strong and they responded enthusiastically to the Revolutionary prints so in the end it wasn't as hard to work with primary school pupils as I thought it was going to be!”

The young researchers spent the day learning about the French Revolution, how to interpret the Waddesdon Manor prints and how to analyse and evaluate them as sources of information about how people felt about the Revolution.

“Feedback from the pupils and parents has been incredibly positive,” said Katherine. “They've developed their research skills, had an insight into the process of research, been able to find out about a topic beyond the national curriculum and had a lot of fun presenting their findings in original and creative ways.

“As a researcher I've gained new insight into the prints because I've had to think differently about how to make them accessible and understandable. It's also important for us as a modern languages department to show that studying a language to an advanced level isn't just about verbs and grammar but that it's also about better understanding the culture, history and politics of the foreign country by evaluating primary material, in this instance the prints from Waddesdon Manor.”

After the campus day, the pupils went away to complete independent research projects, just as an undergraduate would, which they submitted to the University and which they then came back to present at an awards ceremony in June.

The research project involved:

  • Working in pairs to take one event or theme of the Revolution and examine how the prints can be used to reflect what people felt at the time
  • Designing a research question and presenting the findings as a story board or a newspaper front page or a news bulletin or an essay. Pupils from Allesley Primary School, Coventry, produced the stop animation video (below) using Lego figures.

“The idea to do an animation was the pupils' own,” explained Katherine. “I think it's great - they've put in so much time and effort but have clearly had a lot of fun along the way. I look forward to Lego bringing out their French Revolution range of kits soon!”

The Warwick Young Student Researchers’ scheme seeks to inspire school pupils to engage with research and become independent learners. Anyone interested in sending pupils to next year's French Revolution project days (one for year six and another for year nine pupils) should contact Katherine Astbury directly via Katherine dot Astbury at warwick dot ac dot uk.

We strive to break new ground every day.
Keeping up this momentum is a challenge but, by maintaining our research excellence, we continue to go beyond boundaries. That’s why we’re proud of our strong performance in the Government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, for both overall grade point average (GPA) and intensity.
We’ve strengthened our position amongst the UK’s ten best research universities. Warwick’s intensity also achieved a top ten ranking, signifying the strength-in-depth of our exceptional body of research staff.

July 2013

The Children of Allesley Primary School, Coventry

Dr Katherine AstburyDr Katherine Astbury's teaching interests lie in the literature and culture of the 18th and 19th centuries and in translation. In October 2013, she begins an AHRC-funded project on French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era.

Hobbyist by France Eusebio (via Flickr <CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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