I don’t often share resources I make. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I am almost certain that I have taken the idea from somewhere else, and too often can’t remember where the idea has came from.
  2. Imposter syndrome and not feeling that the resources are any better, or even comparable to other resources I see shared on twitter.

However, in this case I am going to share what I have come up with with a few notes on what were the thinking behind it. In designing this enquiry I wanted it to perform a lot of functions. With all curriculums having to make choices about inclusion its vital that our enquiries perform multiple functions to make our curriculum as efficient as possible. Firstly we wanted to address the gender balance in our curriculum and include more diversity. Secondly, we wanted students to understand that sources have no intrinsic value or utility but that their usefulness depends on the questions we ask and the motives we have for reading the source. Thirdly, we wanted to students to engage in extended reading of challenging material. Finally, we wanted students to understand the way in which history is constructed by historians. Including Anne Lister increased the presence of women and LGBT history but also provided a way to expand into wider questions about the construction of history.

Principles behind the Enquiry

In deciding to have an enquiry on Anne Lister there were a couple of guiding motives from our curriculum as a whole.

  1. In our SOW we had no depth study of an individual most of the people feature as characters in the background or single lessons on them, rather then as a central character. Including Anne Lister would help students to understand that people in the past are complicated, inconsistent, flawed and human.
  2. As a new HOD I was horrified that at the end of year 9 (in an all-girls school) the only females that they could say they had studied were monarchs this would provide a new perspective.
  3. I wanted to complicate the narrative of protestors and suffragettes. Anne Lister while not conforming to 19th century gender roles would challenge students preconceptions, as they would expect her to be in favor of suffrage.
  4. We wanted to have students engage in sources in a robust way and understand the problems in engaging with primary source material.
  5. To reveal the process by which sources end up being consumed and used by historians, teachers, and students.
  6. To understand the process in which some stories in the past are hidden, silenced, discovered and gain significance over time.
  7. We wanted students to engage in reading interpretations from academics and look at how changes happen over time.

Having a detailed study of the diaries of Anne Lister would allow us to meet a lot of these aims in a short unit.


While we didn’t explicitly state these takeaways at the time I made the enquiry having recently read Mr Vallances blog on takeways, or residual knowledge that students should have they would be something that I will be highlighting in the future. In reflection these are the residual knowledge that I hope students carry forward with them into the future.

1.People in the past are complicated. They often hold views that we think are inconsistent in retrospect.

2. Same-sex relationships were not always discriminated against in the past.

3. We don’t encounter sources in their raw form but they come to us edited by archivists, historians, and teachers.

4. Sources are complicated, and we need to consider the purpose they were made for, and the possible motives the creator may have had.

5. The production of history is messy and chance often plays a role in the sources that we study.

6. What is preserved from the past and how it is preserved can be a conscious decision that can determine whose story gets told and what voices are silenced.

7. LGBTQIA+ history is not a straightforward story of repression and prejudice.

8. Anne Lister was a remarkable women who defied social norms in many ways while also holding conservative values.

Notably the reflections that I hope students carry with them are not the substantive knowledge of the enquiry but wider knowledge about the complexity of studying history.


The lessons and booklet can be found here.

The booklet contains all the reading for the lessons and the homework we set. The homework was thought about carefully so that it either enriched, challenged or deepened student understanding. The homework on John Stewart Mills for example was to complicate the idea of gender roles, the timeline from Claire Hollis situates Anne Lister in the wider context of LGBT history, while Juan Sor allowed us to bring in South American history to compare the two women who had many similarities. Again allowing each part to perform multiple functions at the same time such as developing knowledge of LGBT history while contextualising Anne Lister, including a wider range of diverse voices while also making students compare two different people.

The lesson structure that we followed is below. We framed the enquiry around the question: ‘What can we learn from the diaries of Anne Lister?’ The first lessons address the context and terms in the enquiry while the remaining lessons start with what we can learn about society and sexuality from the diaries before moving onto what can we learn from them about how history is constructed.

Lesson 1 – Gender roles: This lesson provides the context for the live of Anne Lister and looks at the concept of the two spheres and how men and women had different social norms.

Lesson 2 – Anne Lister: This lesson provides an overview of the life of Anne Lister so that students have knowledge about the major events of her life for when they look at her diaries.

Lesson 3 – Diaries: This lesson considers the nature of diaries as a source. It uses the journal of a plague to show that we should be cautious about taking diaries as always being firsthand experience. It shows how Anne’s use of a diary changed over a time and considers what this might mean for people who read them.

Lesson 4 – Society: This lesson looks at some letters from Anne Lister when she visited Manchester. Some of the letters do not have any direct utility in understanding society to highlight that not all sources are useful.

Lesson 5 – Sexuality: This lesson looks at some of Anne’s letters about her relationship with Maria.

Lesson 6 – History: This lesson looks at the story of how we have the diaries and how they have been hidden and how they came to light. It looks at the way in which access to the diaries has increased and the challenges using Anne ‘s diaries has for historians.

Lesson 7 – Legacy: This looks at differing interpretations of Anne Lister and what her legacy should be.


While teaching the enquiry I read Michel-Rolph Trouillot Silencing the Past. In future teaching I would frontload his silences and use this as an example. In the final lesson with my classes we did consider his four silences in the context of Anne Lister as her story provides a good example of how silences are created but can also be addressed. The insight from students was quite useful as it showed that they realised how Anne Lister could have been one of the silenced in history. As this example from one of my students shows:

It is possible in a condensed enquiry to perform a lot of functions at once. Looking at the diaries of Anne Lister students had an increased understanding of the complexity of people in the past and how history is constructed, they understood source utility from reading a selection of Anne Lister’s diary entries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s