The Scottish Women’s Hospitals – Visit to Peebles High School, January 19th 2015 by Alan Cumming
Mr Cumming was invited by the History Department of Peebles High School to address the entire Higher History cohort of some 60 students. The topic of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals comes into the Higher course primarily when the students learn about the involvement of Scots in the Great War and its impact on women’s position in society. However, it also has relevance to the element of the British history topic of votes for women. It was felt that Mr Cumming’s expertise on the Scottish Women’s Hospitals would give students a valuable insight into a subject which is less well-known than it should be as well as enhancing their overall learning experience.
Mr Cumming’s presentation comprised of a dvd showing his explorations of the SWH’s history and work and a question and answer session, where pupils and staff were able to address points unanswered or stimulated by the content of the dvd. The dvd was really interesting, with both teachers and pupils learning a great deal. Mr Cumming’s relaxed and friendly manner really got the best out of the “civilians” and academics to whom he spoke during the film and he was able to gain access to areas and sources that others, who were less well-connected, couldn’t. The focus on the SWH’s work in Serbia was particularly enlightening as much of our learning about the Great War focuses on the Western Front. The fact that the work of these amazing women is more celebrated in Serbia than in their native Scotland was a sobering one.
The subsequent discussion session was also valuable for both teachers and students – Mr Cumming is clearly extremely knowledgeable and was able to answer questions about a wide range of aspects of the work of the SWH as well as sharing with us information relating to the four members of the SWH from our local area. We particularly appreciated that he had gone to the trouble of exploring these particular women’s stories as pupils often engage more strongly when there is a local connection. His genuine, enthusiastic and unpatronising manner with the students was perfectly pitched and they responded very positively.
Overall, we would regard Mr Cumming’s visit as a very positive experience for our department and we would wholeheartedly encourage others, whether in schools or not, to take advantage of his expertise to enhance their knowledge and understanding of this neglected but fascinating topic.
Miss Fiona J. Dunlop
Teacher of History, Peebles High School