Teacher’s tome plugs the gaps from our collective history books

Jun 11, 2024 | News

The History Lessons by teacher Shalina Patel is a whistlestop tour of history, focused on previously untold stories and voices

Hidden pasts often overlooked in school history classes have been celebrated in a new book by an award-winning teacher.

Shalina Patel’s The History Lessons takes a swipe at established narratives and addresses some uncomfortable truths about colonialism and Britain’s role in the slave trade.

Her inclusive journey into the past covers the Romans to the Second World War via Tudor courts and medieval castles, giving unsung women and people of colour their rightful place in the timeline along the way. “I think people do feel they’ve missed out on certain aspects of history, so I’m trying to help fill those gaps,” explained Patel, who drew on her years of teaching experience for inspiration.

“I’m not just sharing diverse stories: I’m linking those diverse stories within the context that everyone already knows. It’s placing those Indian soldiers and Chinese workers alongside the ‘Tommies in the trenches’ – putting them in the same place rather than othering them.”

Even if the nerdiest of historians picks up the book, there will be things that they haven’t necessarily thought about, or don’t know a huge amount about

Patel’s interest in secret histories was piqued more than six years ago when she stumbled on the story of Indian-born suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh. She later won a National Teaching award – considered by many as the Oscars of the profession – for a lesson on British second world war spy Noor Inayat Khan, and went on to set up the popular @thehistorycorridor account on Instagram to showcase her fresh takes on history.

“I think that even if the nerdiest of historians picks up the book, there will be things that they haven’t necessarily thought about, or don’t know a huge amount about,” added Patel. “After 15 years sharing these stories with students, it feels amazing to take them out of the classroom.”

The rest is history: three figures from Patel’s book

Nur Jahan

Jahan was once the de-facto head of India’s ruling Mughal empire, which was still in power when Britain took control. Patel uses the 17th century, tiger-slaying empress as a vehicle for explaining the origins of British colonialism.

Dorothy Lawrence

Eighteen-year-old Lawrence was desperate to become a war reporter but was vetoed by her editors on the grounds of her gender. Undeterred, she cycled to the western front and disguised herself as a male soldier, though her ruse was rumbled after just 10 days.

Sophia Duleep Singh

Despite being an Indian princess and goddaughter to Queen Victoria, Singh was not above hawking newspapers publicising the Suffragette movement. Back in the day, her campaigning reaped headlines, but today Singh’s contribution to the cause has largely become a historical footnote.

Main image: supplied

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