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Show and Tell: A Day in the Life of a Coalminer (1910)
Introduction History Geography Music English  
image from A Day in the Life of a Coalminer (1910)

There are a number of different ways in which this film can be used in the History classroom. In the first instance, it might be used to develop students' skills in source analysis and evaluation. Alternatively, A Day in the Life of a Coalminer could also be used to extend students' understanding of how and why historical situations, people and events have been, and can be, interpreted in different ways.

Where source analysis is concerned, ask students what they can learn from the film about coalmining and the life of coalminers in the 1910s. It might be useful to ask them to break down their observations into two areas:

  • The film shows..
  • The film implies/I can infer from the film..

The feedback from this simple exercise should provide ample opportunity to evaluate the value of the film as a record of the past, especially when compared to students' own knowledge. There would also be an opportunity here to extend the discussion in terms of change and continuity in British industry.

However, it might be equally fruitful to interrogate the film as a source in further detail - challenging students to think about the final scene which shows a wealthy family enjoying an evening by the fire. What do students think the purpose of this scene? To modern audiences, this might look like a crude political statement in that it offers such a strong contrast to the scenes of hard labour that have come before. However, given that the film was sponsored by a mining company, such political motives seem unlikely. More able students might want to look at the provenance of the film in more detail in the main Screenonline entry for the title.

Following a different track, why not use A Day in the Life of a Coalminer to demonstrate how the past is open to interpretation. Ask students to write two different scripts to play alongside an extract of their choice; each one representing a different viewpoint or addressing a different audience. For example:

  • Imagine you are a campaigner for women's suffrage with the chance to make a speech alongside a screening of the film. What extract(s) might you use to support your views and aims and what key points would you want to make?
  • Alternatively, imagine you are the producer of a broadcast documentary series looking at British industry in the 1900s. What extracts might you find the most useful for illustrating aspects of coalmining at the turn of the century and what would you want to say about them?
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