Life in the 1950s

This article is the twentieth of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

Life in the 1950s is not so often taught in school curricula. Yet, how can we understand our modern world without understanding this decade? In Europe it is the decade when economic growth returned and the social changes were felt by many people. It is the decade when western and eastern Europe were much influenced by culture from the two Cold War superpowers, USA and USSR. It is an era by which many of our students’ grandparents were directly impacted. We teach events from the 1950s, from the 1956 Hungarian Uprising to the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and from the death of Stalin in 1953 to the election of de Gaulle in 1959. By teaching our students about life in the 1950s we can help them to a sense of the period in which these key events took place. We can also ensure that our teaching of the post-war period is not always about leaders and high politics.

There were millions of different people making their lives in the 1950s and they are as important a part of the past as Khrushchev, Churchill, Adenauer and Eisenhower. It was also a time when many European countries experienced large-scale migration from former colonies as people came to make their homes in Europe, often in response to requests for workers to power the booming European economies. There were many perspectives and European society was perhaps less nationalistic and more open than before. Cultural influences spread across borders and, with full employment and a sense of future possibility, it was perhaps one of the best times to be young in the whole 20 th century in some parts of the continent. At the same time, Europe was divided, Spain and Portugal remained under authoritarian rule and a controlling conservative society was also part of European citizens’ everyday life. This source collection aims to give an idea of what life in Europe in the Fifties was like, highlighting both promising and worrying developments that influenced people’s daily lives.

Rock and Roll: music’s big revolution for the youth
Source: Scener, övriga, Swedish Open Cultural Heritage,
Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museer via Europeana, 1957,

Ideas to consider when exploring life in the 1950s
It is, of course, impossible to portray the lives of millions of people using a few picture sources. The source collection presented on Historiana here is designed to suggest themes and to raise more questions than it answers. When teaching life in the 1950s there are big substantive themes, including:

  • The development of the Cold War, including the impact of the death of Stalin, uprisings in Poland and Hungary, fear of nuclear war and the start of the space race.
  • Increasing prosperity leading to greater levels of disposable income for more people and consumer goods we now regard as essential becoming more widely available, from refrigerators to washing machines.
  • The formation of the EEC via the Treaty of Rome in 1957 between the original six member states.
  • The continuation of inequality (accepted by most European people) for women and groups who were in the minority among Europe’s people, including people of colour. On the one hand increased prosperity brought freedoms for some, while most were expected to remain in servile roles and abuse was often regarded as acceptable.
  • A process of rebuilding Europe after the ravages of war was still ongoing. That included building housing, as well as changing cityscapes.
  • Europe was divided between a USSR dominated east and a USA dominated west, with few neutral countries and the dividing line right down Germany. Spain and Portugal were still under the control of fascist dictators.
  • Changing demographics as people migrated to and from Europe, largely driven by economic opportunities.
  • Continued divisions between rich and poor, but with many governments focused on providing more state aid than ever before, for example in health and social care to all citizens.

Students could be asked to think about how much change and continuity their seems to be in this period and that balance of these in different aspects of the period. They could also consider the historical significance of the period for our own times. Students could be given a historian’s interpretation of the period and asked how far it can be supported by using the sources in the collection as evidence. You could use this source collection in conjunction with the series of life stories from across Europe for the period 1945-50 that are available in the Historiana Changing Europe Unit. Students could be asked to hypothesise about the perspectives the different characters could have taken on the 1950s, using the evidence available.

The perfect housewife as the role model for women in the 1950s
Source: Fika i trädgården. Trafikaktiebolaget Grängesberg-
Oxelösund Järnvägar, Swedish Open Cultural Heritage,
Järnvägsmuseet via Europeana, 1955,

Teaching about Life in the 1950s using the e-learning activity

The e-learning activity uses the Historiana source collection to introduce students to the period of the 1950s. As such, it could be set as preparation work before starting to learn about some of the key events of the 1950s. The activity acknowledges that ‘Life in Europe in the 1950s’ is a very large topic indeed. Millions of people of different ages and experiences had been born and lived in Europe. Many more people from across the world were moving to Europe to build their futures.

Europe was a place with a big past and a sense of a big future. Europe was divided – between east and west, between rich and poor, between men and women. The activity is designed to provoke more questions than it answers. Students watch a 15-minute film clip about West Germany made by a US travel company. They are then asked to think about how the origins and purposes of the film shaped the selection of the images and narration of the film. Students next study the source collection images and sort them into two groups; images that agree with the film’s interpretation and images that give a different interpretation of the 1950s. They are asked to reflect on how the images extend their knowledge further and what questions they raise for them about the period.

Students move on to consider one image in more depth, by reading a text that accompanies it. From the text they gain contextual knowledge and this exercise demonstrates to students now contextual knowledge improves our understanding of an image. Students next use two sources and two short texts to compare similarities and differences in experiences of women in the 1950s. Finally, students are asked to think what else they would like to know about the 1950s and how they might go about gaining that knowledge, including talking to older family members about their recollections. In summary, this is therefore an introductory e-activity designed to give a flavour of the 1950s and to make explicit some of the ways that historians approach sources as evidence to draw provisional conclusions.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

Teaching about national personifications and their use as propaganda

This article is the nineteenth of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

This blogpost develops further ideas for teaching using personifications of nations. If you have not already read the previous blogpost, please do so. In it you will find an explanation of national personifications for history teachers and also some ideas to consider when teaching using them. In this blogpost the specific focus is upon national personifications and their use as propaganda.
Propaganda is itself a complex term for students to understand. It can be described as material to persuade to achieve a political purposes. Often students encounter propaganda in history classrooms as an entirely negative thing. It is not so. For example, campaigns by governments to persuade citizens to eat more healthily or to wear a face mask in a pandemic are propaganda, but are not regarded as sinister and negative by most citizens. Some examples are given in the Source collection on the topic.

Appealing to Nationalism to support the annexation of Trieste
Source: La lontananza dalla famiglia: Livia Morica via Europeana 1914-1918, 5556.
Ideas to consider when exploring national personifications and propaganda

The teaching needs to be carefully planned and broken down into stages to help students to work confidently and effectively with both national personifications and propaganda in the history classroom. There are a number of important issues to consider when planning.

Firstly, propaganda can be sensitive and controversial for some students. While some students may not experience an emotional connection to some propaganda, others may do so. The teacher needs to know their students and to be prepared to set up the tone of the classroom so that the focus is on using images as historical evidence of the past. At the same time, there may well be propaganda images that are not appropriate to use in school classrooms, or at least not without very careful consideration of contextualisation and teacher explanation. For example, where a national personification is used in racist propaganda. In general, as teachers, we should be questioning our use of any image that harms the dignity of a person or people.

Secondly, it is a good idea to introduce the concept of national personification before the concept of propaganda. For more on the former, please see the previous blogpost. The two concepts can be introduced on one lesson, just not at the same time. Depending on the experience of your students, you may also need to take time to introduce the concept of a political cartoon; a common form of propaganda.

Thirdly, a wide variety of methods of persuasion are deployed in propaganda. They are not all likely to be present on one form of propaganda, but any activity teaching students about propaganda
should introduce the methods and give students chance to work with a range of sources which deploy different methods. When selecting sources try to find ones which show use of the following:

  • Convincing people that the subject of the propaganda has authority to make a claim
  • Exploitation of existing beliefs of people who are to see or hear the propaganda
  • An appeal to patriotism
  • The creation or stoking of fear
  • Humour to entertain
  • A suggestion that everyone agrees with the point of view being supported
  • Disguising the propaganda as something else
  • The use of very blunt and clear messaging
  • Making false connections
  • Selective use of the truth
  • Establishing a leadership cult

Finally, while, in the history classroom our primary responsibility is to teach about how we interpret the past, propaganda is all around us today. There are many examples of useful activities available that focus on the wider issue of helping students not to unwittingly fall vulnerable to propaganda. The work of the Stamford University History Education Group and Professor Sam Wineburg is one such example.

Appealing to French patriotism to help the war effort
Source: Correspondance entre Emile MONFRAY et sa sœur., Emile
Monfray, 1916, Archives départementales de Seine-Maritime via
Europeana, 230012.

Teaching about national personification and propaganda using the e-learning activity

The e-learning activity is designed to introduce students to the concept of national personification, to familiarise them with some common personifications they may encounter and to introduce them to how personification has been used as propaganda. It starts by defining the phrase ‘personifying the nation’ and then introducing some commonly used personifications of nations; both the name and the way they are commonly portrayed. To check this learning is secure, students sort a series of images into national groups. They then focus on one political cartoon from the second decade of the 20th century. They have to identify the two countries represented in the cartoon, explain the clues they used and how they used them. The next task uses two versions of the Uncle Sam personification of the USA and students identify the similarities and differences between them. This helps cement the idea of common features in personifications as well as providing an opportunity to study sources carefully; a key skill for a historian. The students are then introduced to a definition of propaganda and to the different ways that propaganda can attempt to persuade people. They then work with two examples of propaganda, one a personification of Italy and the other a personification of France from the era of the First World War, to identify the methods of persuasion are used in the propaganda and to explain why they have arrived at their decision. Finally, students reflect on their learning.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

National Personifications

This article is the eighteenth of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

It is probably true that if you, as a history educator or an adult interested in the past, were asked to say how your country was represented in imagery you would be able to answer. There are certain
very well-known images that are internationally known too; think of ‘Uncle Sam’ for the USA, or the Russian bear, or the German eagle. Students in schools are young and often they do not have this cultural image vocabulary. They do not understand this symbolism. We need to help them identify common representations of nations and people so that they can understand image sources from the past. For example, many history school exams expect students to be able to work with political cartoons or propaganda posters from the 20 th century. These are often full of caricatures, images and personifications. Students are not going to be able to even start to work out what a cartoon or poster means if they cannot identify the people, places and events being represented. Therefore, we need to explicitly teach students about such images. This is particularly true for students who, due to their background, may not be able to learn about images and symbolism from their home background. If teachers do not teach this topic, then some students will remain excluded from the imagery familiar to the dominant culture of the place where they live. This blogpost is focused on one particular group of images – the personification of nations. That is, nations being represented as imaginary people. The contextual information provided with each of the images in the source collection provides specific information about images from a range of countries.

Source: Bust of Athena Pallas from Villa Albani, Rome; Unknown author,
1832, Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation via Europeana, 44164.

Ideas to consider when exploring national personifications
This might be a topic that you have not thought about very explicitly before. To help you think about teaching using national personifications, there are some ideas to consider:

  • The tradition of national personification goes back to the far past and became very popular from the 18 th century onward, especially with the rise of mass production of images.
  • This idea of representing a whole group of people, often a nation, as a person is controversial. Societies are always diverse and representation a whole society with just one image of a person is an over-simplification. It deliberately ignores diversity.
  • One national group may have competing images across time and/or within one period of time. An example of this would be in later 19 th century Ireland, where nationalists used a female image needing the support of young Irish men to free her from British control, while unionists at the same time used a female image of Ireland needing the protection of her older sister, representing the UK government.
  • Personifications might link the national group to the ancient world. For example, Britannia for the UK and Germania for Germany. These personifications are often dressed in classical costume and presented with classical images.
  • National Personifications might also be deliberately presented to represent the ‘common man’. That is, to be a figure lots of people can identify with as similar to them. An example of this would be Uncle Sam from the USA.
  • An advantage for the student of history is that the most common and historically effective personifications tend to have identifiable features that we can teach students to spot. When they are studying political satire or propaganda. Again, think about Uncle Sam with his top hat and his stars and stripes costume.

    We can teach students not only to identify these substantive national personifications, but also to understand this cultural phenomenon as something chosen and constructed. We can use them a source material for evidence of the perceptions of the people who created them, for evidence of their values and for evidence of how they thought about their nation and how others should think about their nation. As such they are an introduction to the cultural history or a place, or people, or period
Uncle Sam from the USA
Source: Thank you Uncle Sam, Joke Broekema, 1944, Museon via
Europeana, 71618.

Teaching about national personification using the e-learning activity
The e-learning activity is designed to introduce students to the concept of national personification, to identify some commonly used personifications and to use some of the them as sources of evidence about the past. After a short introductory text about what they are and the purpose of thinking about them, they are then asked to sort a selection of images into male and female. This is a way to get students to look at a range of national personifications. Students then follow a link to a short piece about why so many personifications are of women and to a link to a short piece explaining the ‘Uncle Sam’ figure, as one example of a well-known personification. They then focus on two images and identify similarities and differences between them. These two personifications, one of Denmark and one of Finland, give an overall impression. Students are reminded that these are stereotypes and that, of course, it is important to remember that each country is in reality much more complex and that the millions of people who live in them are not all the same; they do not have the same thoughts, hopes and dreams.

At the same time, students learn that these personifications can give us insights into how people in power, or supporters of a country, or a country’s critics, thought of themselves at the time the image was produced. They also learn that these images can also give us clues about qualities that some people value. The images are therefore useful as sources of evidence for the past. They are small windows into the past that give us a glimpse of what it might have been like. We can then use them to build our ideas and opinions about the past. To extend the learning students are asked to read the contexts to each source in the collection and challenged to find out more about the personifications that are used by their community. Hopefully, after completely this activity, students will understand the concept of national personification, be able to identify them and understand how they can be used by historians to learn about the past.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

Click2Map is a simple to use tool enabling you, or your students, to create annotated maps.

We have used it with students who need to revise the battles of the Western Front. Students posted the key facts and a picture onto a map. The process of looking up the information from their notes and locating each battle correctly was useful revision in itself, and they now have a saved map to revise from for their exams.

Here is a screenshot of a map in progress:

Click2Map 2

This idea of making a map to capture key details that need revising could apply to so many topics. For example, the trails of the pioneers who moved west in North America in the 1800s, or the main events of the Cold War in Europe 1947-1989.

Students might enjoy mapping the places a key individual is associated with, such as Alexander von Humboldt. Students could identify an image from each place and write up what he discovered/ thought there. Another idea would be to map distinctive cathedrals of Europe. Students could be limited to ten cathedrals and asked to present them on a map with annotation as to why each one made a significant contribution to the development of European cathedral architecture. Students could then review each other’s maps and comment on their choices. Students could develop a tour on a particular topic for their home town. We are about to trial a project where our 12 year-old students develop different 10-stage walking tours of the city; one from the Middle Ages, one from the 19th century etc. Really, if you can map it you can do it! Students often have quite a poor sense of place, so using these maps in your own teaching, or asking them to produce maps will be a useful support to help them to think historically.

After initial sign-up at, you will have a landing page called ‘My Maps’. Here you will find the list of all the maps you have published. You can edit existing maps, or create new ones. ‘Create a new map’ asks you for a title and then enables you to set a background map from the level of very local (village/town level) to a world map. You can then go to ‘new’ and add ‘markers’ one by one. These can include text, photos, video links and other urls. The markers can be in various colours and they open when they are clicked upon. The markers are located on the map by simply adding the location in the typing box. Click2map then searches for the coordinates to locate it accurately. It’s also easy to add lines to show routes and polygons to show areas of territory in the same way. All very clever! This digital tool works on all devices, it is free to use and requires a straightforward registration process if you want to be able to save and share maps you make.

As ever, do have a go and share with us any great ideas, success stories!

Digital platforms: teaching your history students beyond the classroom!

A quick review of the landscape!

When I was at school (at some time in the far and distant past), no teacher could continue to teach me from a distance. I was a good student, so my file was always in order, but I can’t say I really had a clear sense of the whole course I was studying. All my notes were paper based.
I am increasingly a teacher who continues to teach my students when they are out of school. I organise them and show them where what they are learning fits into a course plan. I teach using a range of media. All this is possible because of the many digital platforms out there.

Digital platforms 1If you have students with iPads you can use iTunesU to build courses and share materials. It is true to say that it has amazing features, allowing you to structure a course, invite students, load up all kinds of material, see what your students have accessed and use it as a markbook. However, it is limited to users of iPads and therefore can’t be a top recommendation.
Digital platforms 2Microsoft have developed Class Notebook as part of their Office software. This has many of the same features as iTunesU and a collaboration space. After you have set it up it runs through OneNote. The advantage is that it is available on any device. The disadvantage is that you (or your school) has to have a Microsoft Office Subscription. So again, a good tool, but it can’t be my focus here.

I am going to focus upon using Google Drive with students. For this you do have to be over 14 to get a Google account. However, after that hurdle, it is free and available on any device.

Organising and promoting your students’ learning using Google Drive

Once you have a Google account you can use Drive from anywhere. It is a place for shared files and documents. My older students have a folder called ‘History 2016-2018’ (they are studying a two year exam course). Within that folder are folders for each unit of the exam course.  Within these there are then folders for each topic. It’s up to you how many folders you create and how you structure them. You simply share the first (top) folder with your students’ gmail addresses and they can access any material in that folder.

In each of the topic folders I put all the learning materials they need, such as picture sources, worksheets, reading material, essay plans and weblinks. Loading files is simple. You just click on ‘New’ and ‘File upload’. You can also upload complete folders of material. This way I can make sure they are organised and can clearly see how each piece of work fits into the whole course.

A lot of the material I put up is in the form of PDFs, Powerpoints, Jpegs, WordDocs and the like.  That is, material I am not expecting students to collaborate on.  They can download these documents and work on them on- or offline. It is especially useful if a student has missed class to be able to send them to the right folder to get the lesson materials.

Student work and collaboration

I can also ask students to access a document or link that I have loaded, to work with it and share their work with me. Google Drive allows me to see who has been active, so I know before students arrive in class who has, and has not, done the work I asked for.

I also create new Docs (like Word), Slides (like Powerpoint), Forms (like Excel), Forms (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), Sites, Drawings and My Maps. All of these allow group collaboration. This can be done in class, or as home work. For example, I might have a trial exam question in Docs and ask students to collaborate to create an answer. Or I might create a Slides of pictures and ask them to collaborate to re-arrange them to create a gallery space with captions to inform the viewer and make an interpretation from the collection. All of these collaboration efforts are then available for students to download and use in their future work and for exam revision.

Digital platforms image

There are ways that you can make sure everyone is taking part. For example, I ask students to adopt a colour font at the start of the year. That way, I can see whose words are in the Docs etc. When you work online at the same time, everyone’s name pops up. We still enjoy it and think it’s a bit like something out of a Harry Potter book! It’s fun and collaborating together in class promotes discussion and debate.

This really is a very simple adaption to make to your planning. Students love it and they are gaining skills with the sort of digital tools and online organisation valued by employers. Senior managers in school like it too, as it is very easy to show parents how supported students are in their work.