Exploring the art of bringing History to Life for our students
We recently travelled with Holy Cross School to Berlin, and thought we’d seize the opportunity to catch up with our good friends at Insider Tours. Meeting up with Mike Stack, who has been guiding tours for our schools for some 20 years, we got the chance to learn more about the skills of an Insider Tour Guide and why we recommend them so highly to schools who travel on History Tours with us.
Over to you Mike…
What is your background and how did it lead you to becoming a tour guide?
“I’ve always had a real passion for history. And so, when I went to university after school, I studied European history and tourism, focussing my studies on 20th century European history. So, if you study 20th century European history, Berlin is without a doubt, a great place to be!
I came here looking for my role in society, my part in this world. Shortly after, a friend came to visit me, and we did a walking tour, and I thought to myself, that’s exactly what I want to do. I’ve got an extroverted personality, love history and thrive on bringing this across to the people here in Berlin and around the world.
There it began some 19 years ago, and I’ve never looked back! Talking about Berlin history, being outside, dealing with people and talking about super important recent history, it’s fantastic and hugely rewarding.
I couldn’t ask for a better job.”
What does it take to become a Tour Guide and bring history to life?
“Bringing History to Life is based on having robust knowledge, and, just as important, is when a tour guide genuinely believes and enjoys what they’re doing. The group will see that immediately, and people will feed off that enthusiasm – quite frankly, it’s infectious.”
Do the guides stories evolve over time to incorporate modern history?
“I think it’s so imperative and important to evolve your tour over time. When you consider what has been happening in the last few years here in Europe, you’ve got a war in the East in the Ukraine so evolving the tour, talking about the past, but always bringing it back to the present time, to allow students to react and make comparisons between the then and now is imperative.
It allows them to question, ‘are the events and mistakes of our past in some way being repeated?’
If you take the great quote from Mark Twain “history never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes,” meaning what is happening now isn’t exactly the same but is very similar to what’s happened in our past.
Integrating the present into our tours gives our storytelling a new lease of life, it keeps it alive and keeps you engaged and passionate about what you are sharing with schools.
Another benefit is that helps younger students relate to what they are being told.”
Explain the importance of understanding History at a young age…
“I can give you a good example to illustrate my thinking on this…
We were recently given the challenge of creating a tour for 8- to 10-year-olds about Berlin’s history. Our instant reaction was – what do you do for 8- to 10-year-olds? We decided to take the approach from the angle that there’s been a lot of intolerance in Berlin over the last 100 years, two dictatorships and what took place post-World War II with the division of Berlin and of Germany.
So, we questioned, how do we bring that into today’s learning and how can we sensibly relate it to classroom intolerance? We took the route that bullying on the playground and cyber bullying provides current relatable examples, where we could explore how hard it is for you to stand up to intolerance and bullying.
Then we brought in the dictatorships and the people who resisted the dictatorships. We tried to get across to the kids how important it is to stand up to intolerance and bullying, because if you don’t, our past illustrates what can happen. Allowing things like dictatorship to take control at an early stage rather than fighting and standing up to it can change the future.
The messaging was clear, we know it’s hard, but if you do it together, maybe you can make a good positive contribution to the future of your school, your playground and tolerance within your school. It’s about planting a seed in young minds at an early age.”
How do you tailor a guided tour to suit your audience?
“Before the tour begins, we discuss with the teachers what students have already learned, what they already know about, and the direction we could potentially take the tour on.
Next, we talk to the kids, leading with a casual chat about history in general. We ask them, what do you want to know? What people and themes interest you? What have you studied at school? We can then tailor the tour to the schools’ specific needs…”
And that is why we work in such close partnerships with Insider Tour and their team of guides…