An entire class was discussing the old places of their town, its geography and the changes they had observed there in their lifetimes. Some were arguing with each other about directions and other minute details of the city. Students were also drawing the landscape of their city on mount boards or creating 3D models.
This was my latest experiment which focused on getting to know about how these students’ city looked when it was young. I wanted them to visualize the past. One common factor I have noticed while working with students for my PhD research work is that their notion of the past is somewhat related only to the kings and wars. They seem to have never experienced history as an interesting story; the past is always quite distant from their personal experiences and hence history becomes merely a list of events with dates to remember.
Being an artist and an archaeologist I decided to take the liberty of helping these children think more creatively and imaginatively about their past. After all, art is a game of how you imagine and what you see and create. So I decided to see if I could help these students find the art of time. I wanted them to be able to visualize and feel how time acts as its own artistic force, rendering change.
I recently carried out this experiment at Mahatma Gandhi High School in Bandra (Mumbai), for age 12-13 students. The experiment was initially planned in two parts.
- A lecture where I talked with them about the concepts of time, the past, the continuous process of cultural change and how it was their story too.
- A research project for students: Students were asked to gather the stories of their own area (Bandra) where they lived. I specifically told them to gather the information about the ‘old city’ by talking to their parents, grandparents or old people staying in their neighborhoods (for example, how was the market area in their youth, how were the roads when their grandfathers were young, how was the design of the doors and windows of houses when city was young and so on).
I went to this school three times. Every time I went I could sense that students were not so interested. They were bored and resistant to listen to the concept of history, which was by their point of view, useless. Every time I went to the school I hoped I would finally be able to connect with my students and that they might show some interest in what was going on. This hope vanished when I told them about the research project. They clearly did not like it; it was yet one more assignment for them for which they had to study. I gave them one month to gather the stories about ‘old Bandra’. I came back home very nervous. By then I had lost all hopes of getting any good results.
One month later I returned to the school. I was really not very enthusiastic to go because the students’ previous responses had been so negative. When I reached the school the class teacher handed over the students’ projects. As I went through all of them, I realized that the personal touch was missing totally. Instead of writing about their parents’/grandparents’ memories/stories they had simply collected information from the internet. It was then that I realized they had not visualized the past of their city at all. Now it was a challenge for me.
I decided to make this experiment more interactive and interesting. I told them that they would be making a model, illustration or map of their city in their grandparents’ times based on the memories and stories they had gathered. I divided students in nine groups, five or six students in each. Each group was given a full imperial size mount board and asked to make model/map/illustration of ‘old Bandra’. They could choose any format that they liked.
In the beginning students approached me so they could refer to their written projects. I decided not to give them back and instead told them to remember and visualize what they had learnt while gathering the information. Initially students were blank, but they gradually started getting the hang of it. After some time they were totally charged up and the results were amazing! At this point, it was clear that they could connect themselves to changing landscapes that time has drawn on the canvas of history.
Asking them to collect the stories was clearly not enough to help them visualize the bygone era; the moment I asked them to create a model, illustration or map of the information they had gathered, I could see the sense of involvement in them. I realized that visualization of a story into a form is much more difficult for the students than I thought. The prevalent education system only trains them to follow rather than to think, imagine and visualize. I need to take this into consideration and conduct my future experiments in such a way that the students will at least try to incorporate their thinking abilities and will come out with more and more original and innovative ideas on their own.
After completing graduation in sculpture from Sir.J.J.School of Art, Mumbai (India), Anagha Bhat did masters in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology and now is perusing her doctoral research at the Department of Archaeology, Deccan College PGRI, Pune (India). Through her research, she is trying to combine art and archaeology together for teaching students about cultural processes. She believes this will lead to formation of a bond between the students and their environment and further to the sustainable preservation of heritage. She has been awarded ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Scholarship’ for the same. She works as a freelance educator, conducts various lectures and workshops at schools and art colleges. Contact Anagha at email@example.com or visitwww.anagha2102.blogspot.in
Also by Anagha Bhat in ALT/space:
Language Beyond Words and History Beyond Text