Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Tax Man Cometh

March 11, 2011 · No Comments

Yesterday was my second day volunteering at Norwich Castle, and the theme of the day was the Ancient Romans and Iceni. This meant that the interpretors were dressed in togas or in plaid blankets with blue facepaint. I’m beginning to think that I won’t recognize them if I ever see them in street clothes. We had a group of about 120 five and six year-olds in yesterday, and like the previous week, they were divided into four rotations. When they came in for the day, two Romans and two Iceni tribewomen met them and explained the overarching issue that the kids should be focused on throughout their activities: is it fair that the Romans tax the Iceni?

I was able to observe some of the rotations in the morning, which was really great. The first activity that I sat in on was an exploration of life in an Iceni roundhouse using some props and drama. I was really impressed with how Pam, the interpretor, was able to keep all of the students interested and engaged. She explained to me later that the kids never really get to learn about the Iceni perspective in class because, well, history was written by the Romans and the Iceni didn’t leave any written accounts of themselves to counter the Roman accounts. So she had them talk about how life for an Iceni was different than life today and had them act out different jobs that would have been important in the tribe. She also explained to them that the Romans took half of everything the Iceni had as tax, and had them plan ways to thwart the Roman tax collector. By the end of the session, she had managed to develop some very strong Iceni loyalties amongst the students!

I followed this group to their rotation with “Brutus,” a Roman soldier, who talked the kids through what it was like to serve in the Roman army and showed them several weapons. He actually taught them the best places to stab someone, after making them promise that they wouldn’t use this knowledge on the playground. He kept it very lighthearted, but I was still kind of taken aback. What he didn’t bargain on, however, was the strong pro-Celtic sentiment that Pam had fostered in the previous rotation. As he was explaining how the Romans had conquered Britain, one little girl piped up and said, “Why couldn’t you have stayed in Rome? Why did you have to come take over our lands and charge us mean taxes?” Andy, the interpretor, was surprised, but started listing off all of the improvements that the Romans had made for the barbaric Celts, but this little girl was very persistent, telling him that he wasn’t listening to her and that no, the Celts were very civilized, thank you very much. Her argument later devolved into, “Well, you’re not a real Roman, because then you’d be dead!” After taking her through a quick lesson in British history and reminding her that she wasn’t a real Celt because she would also be dead, Andy said, “Listen, kids. Life’s not fair. But to make it more fair, get yourselves a sword.” To deter further Celtic uprisings, he then had the kids line up in formation and march around the museum screaming, “Left! Right!” in Latin (sinister and dexter, if you were wondering).

During the afternoon I helped out with the craft again, which was Iceni torc-making using wires and aluminum foil.

Image from the museum's digital collection, http://www.culturalmodes.norfolk.gov.uk/projects/img/imglib.asp?page=item&itemId=RB00679.JPG

This was a much less sticky craft than the Egyptian collars had been. After making their own torcs, the kids got to go explore the Iceni gallery in the museum. They all seemed to have a really good time. After the students left for the day, I spent the remainder of my time doing craft prep for future Roman and Egyptian days. Next week I’ll be at Strangers Hall to help out with a Tudor day. I’ve had a really good time so far and I think that the Learning Department does some great work.

Date: 10/3/2011

Time: 9:30-3:30, total of 12.5 hours

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Categories: 2010 Holly
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