British Library gives teachers tools to inspire

The Discovering Literature website is an important cultural resource that can be enjoyed by all ages.

If it hadn't been for a well-timed family visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, I doubt I would've finished Jane Eyre before my GCSE English literature exam. Simpering St John bored me, and I already knew the ending, having watched the film in class. Going to Haworth and seeingCharlotte Brontë's childhood writings, her letters and drawings, and the journal she kept as a young teacher, renewed my interest. Understanding the author and her times turned the novel from dusty set-text into something vital and affecting.

Now anyone with access to the internet can experience the same connection. Exhibits from the Brontës' childhood home can be viewed on the British Library's new website, Discovering Literature, along with William Blake's notebooks, an early draft of The Importance of Being Earnest, and thousands more pages from the library's Romantic and Victorian collections. There are also teaching notes, 150 articles by leading academics and videos including Simon Callow on Dickens as a performer.

While Discovering Literature is an important cultural resource that can be enjoyed by all ages, it has been carefully tailored to appeal to GCSE and A-level students. The British Library's research among teachers showed that original manuscripts, with their edits and revisions, dodgy grammar and messy handwriting, can be a powerful way of engaging pupils. Contextual material can also be a source of inspiration, and the site is packed with items such as letters, diaries, dictionaries, newspapers and illustrations that illuminate the historical, social and political contexts of classic works. An 1809 dictionary of underworld slang sheds light onOliver Twist, for instance.

With education such a battlefield, and learning so geared to exams, it can be difficult for teachers to get on with their main job: to inspire. Anything that makes that task easier deserves to be celebrated.



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