Pre-U Chinese: New website for Chinese history teaching

Dr. Toby Lincoln, Associate Professor in Chinese Urban History at the University of Leicester, has been developing a bilingual Pre-U website in English and Chinese composed of lesson plans, source materials and other resources to assist with the teaching of Chinese history in UK secondary schools.

Toby Lincoln very kindly answered some questions we put to him about the website and about how it will support teachers in the teaching of Chinese history, including the historical elements of the Paper 4 Pre-U exam.

Can you briefly describe the wider project and how it relates to the development of the Pre-U website?

Dr. Toby Lincoln

The website is part of a larger research project entitled “Chinese postwar urban reconstruction, 1938-1958.” It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under their early career leadership fellow scheme. Working with colleagues in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the research explores the extent of destruction in Chinese cities during World War II, and how successive governments and people worked to rebuild them. In doing so, it demonstrates how postwar reconstruction provided the foundation for the emergence of the world’s largest urban society in the second half of the twentieth century. This research covers the same time period and many of the themes as the historical section of Pre-U Paper 4. Moreover, together with colleagues in Shanghai, I will be collecting materials that will not only be used for the research, but will appear on the website.

How will the new Pre-U website help teachers?

The Pre-U website is a collection of historical sources designed specifically around the themes and content for the historical section of Paper 4 of the Pre-U exam. It aims to provide content to supplement the textbooks and other resources available. A wealth of material on 20th century Chinese history exists online and in the public domain, but teachers often do not know about this material or have the time to sift through it. The content will be organised thematically, temporally and geographically to allow teachers and students to engage with the platform in multiple ways. For example timelines of major historical events like the Sino-Japanese War, the lives of important figures such as Mao Zedong or Chiang Kaishek, and organisations such as the Chinese Communist Party will be provided. Important events dealt with in the course will be mapped allowing students to understand where they happened, something that is particularly important given that the tumultuous history of this period played out in different ways in different parts of China.

How are you working with teachers to shape and develop the website?

A workshop was held on 24th January at the University of Leicester with IOE CI Director, Katharine Carruthers. A short presentation on Omeka, the software platform on which the site will be built explained the possibilities and limitations to teachers. We then broke into several groups to brainstorm ideas, which I have summarised, and which will allow me to begin collecting materials over the next few months. It is important that this website is produced with the needs of teachers and students in mind, and consultation will continue throughout the project. It is also important that I receive feedback from both teachers and students on how this site is used.

What kind of resources will be available on the website?

The website will contain photographs, maps, cartoons, drawings, and hopefully videos and sound recordings. It will also contain sections of original text in Chinese and English, although just how much is going to be translated is something we will have to work out. All the material will be accompanied by metadata. That means that it will be possible to trace who produced it, where, when etc., something that is of vital importance in conducting historical research. Organising the materials on the site will be a challenge, and so we will have to think about whether there is a trade-off between making the site user-friendly vs. the inclusion of multiple types of material.

Will there be lesson plans to guide the teachers in using the website?

I certainly hope that there will be lesson plans. It is possible to use the Omeka platform to provide a password protected area that only teachers can access. This may allow for quizzes and other similar tasks as well. We are limited by the functionality of the site and the money and time that will be devoted to the project. Nevertheless, some guidance on using the site for both teachers and students will be available.

What are the next steps and when will the website be ready?

The next step is for me to work with a research assistant here at Leicester to produce content for late September or early October that can be shared with teachers. This will focus around one of the themes for the Pre-U Paper 4. Once we have feedback from that, I will be working with the research assistant to add content to the site over the course of the next year. There will be a workshop in late 2019 to get further feedback and another workshop in early summer of 2020 to launch the site. We will also discuss whether further funding is available to support this and similar projects going forward.

Thank-you Dr. Lincoln.

Next week we will publish a blogpost featuring Dr. Lincoln’s lecture from the Pre-U workshop on 24th January, on the subject of “Chinese History 1937 – 1956: major events and historical debates”.