Putting History in It’s Place – Jim Lennie
In around 2001, when my granddaughter was about five years old, I took her on her first visit to the mining museum in Nitten (Newtongrange). To put things into perspective, I had been a miner, as was my father before me. The pits had just closed fairly recently. It felt very recent to me. I still had (metaphoric) coal dust under my finger nails.
The pits of Loanhead were my source of livelihood and also my playground when I was growing up. So it was absolutely astonishing to me that my own granddaughter didn’t know what coal was or what it was for. Why should she? She had never seen a bit!
It is remarkable how quickly huge proud industries move into history. The bairn could hardly believe that we used to burn coal in our fires at home, in our living rooms. She looked at me in horror. It was like speaking to someone from another planet. IT WAS ANOTHER PLANET. It felt to me that the pits had ceased to exist about three weeks ago. I still regarded myself as a miner.
All this just reinforces my conviction that educating our kids in what was and is after all their culture, is the single most important thing the museum does.
History helps us understand change in the world. It makes us into more rounded individuals. It can be fun. And arguably most important it teaches our young people that we, each generation, makes its own history.
By use of the exhibition galleries and the tour guides, the museum shows us that history does not have to be dry, cold and impersonal. Bare facts and figures don’t capture the imagination of children. This quantitative type of learning is pretty boring. What the gallery entitled “A RACE APART” does is show how people lived. What was their housing like, their diet, their education? What was life like for miners wives? In other words it looks at the quality of lives and not just the fact that they lived, existed. It is qualitative. This brings history alive. Real people, real lives, not just facts and figures you can get from a book.
In my opinion, this is what National Mining Museum Scotland does best.
As a tour guide in the museum, there is nothing brings greater joy than seeing children enjoy a tour. The tours can be somewhat amended to suit the age group. Yes we did use canaries underground. Horses/ponies did indeed work down the pit. Children of no minimum age used to work underground often without a candle. Sometimes I let a child start the huge winding engine at the end of the tour. The joy on their wee faces is worth seeing!
Finally, I want to thank the museum for playing a big part in helping kids like my lovely granddaughter understand who they are and where they come from. It’s great to see the kids having an interest in history. Any kind of history. How extraordinary history is.
Jim Lennie March 2020