Wednesday 24 March 2010

The New House that Jack Built

This is an archive I found out about through Dr Ian Grosvenor (who has recently published a paper on it), in Birmingham Archives and Heritage. The original 'House that Jack built' is an old English Nursery rhyme:

"a cumulative tale that doesn't tell the story of Jack, who builds a house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to numerous things and people, and through this method tells the story of 'The man all tattered and torn', and the 'Maiden all forlorn', on top of other smaller storylines."

It isn't unusual for a parody to be made from nursery rhymes, and this story in particular. There are many examples dating back to the eighteenth century. Initially I thought about using the story as an example of slave campaigning in nineteenth century England.

Then I thought the structure of the story would be useful to develop their own parodies, looking to where products they bought had come from. Finally, as I read closer, I found more in the story, to explore attitudes to learning, science, geography, race and learning - a history of ethics, a pedagogy for 'creative learning' and fair and ethical trading.

Tract ends with 'God save the King!' - a reminder of the times, perhaps, to avoid any accusation of harbouring Frenchie Republican notions other slavery abolitionists had been tarred with.

In the end, the group (Yr8 Science class exploring 'A Scientific justification for Fair Trade') moved on from it to their own products, and exploring where they have come from. However, it was useful in framing our project - laying out a 'scientific' reductionist framework, mapping out and linking mechanical, chemical, geographical, historical, social and any and all aspects of the manufacture and sale of their products, promoting their own creative and well reasoned connections between goods, people, and our responsibilities in a consumerist society!

'Explications' at end give extensive notes on all from slavery, wheat production in Norfolk, and (here) what is salt. Written in 1800, Joseph Priestley had only just discovered Oxygen, and Lavoisier the 'Father of Chemistry' only recently made discoveries which led to the periodic table later in nineteenth century.

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