100 Years War through comics

The first comic I introduced to my students this year was Crecy, by Warren Ellis.  The lesson was inspired by a quote from their textbook – “The longbow, not chivalry, had won the day” (Beck, 402).  As if often the case, the textbook summed up a crucial turning point in history in only a few sentences.  Looking to find a way to teach this subject in a more engaging and deeper manner, I decided to try the graphic novel.  I will admit to “editing” the text a bit as some of the language was a bit much for the classroom, but it did not take away from the story.

I teach my Western Civilization class, we actually titled it Historical Inquiry, as a historiography course as well – the students learn how to become historians and that history does not have a “right” answer or depiction.  The beginning skills are focused on annotating a source – written, picture, song, poem, artifact, comic book, etc – and becoming a detective by pulling out as much specific “textual” evidence as possible.  This comic book enabled the students to use an engaging and exciting medium to better understand the 100 Years War, by focusing on these skills.  Additionally, an important skill for annotating is making connections – so I also shared with my students my own personal connections in this lesson, beginning with the quote from the textbook and ending with the graphic novel/movie 300.

We had been working on another task earlier in the class – I told the students that the reward would be to read a “bloody and gory” comic book.  I really had the attention of the students after uttering the sentence!

The task – read the graphic novel on your desk and answer the following two questions, using specific textual evidence.

1. The English army, far outnumbered and behind enemy lines, managed to win the Battle of Crecy.  Bullet as many English tactics as you can find in the novel.

2. This battle helped bring about the end of the ideals of chivalry and the importance of nobles/knights on the battlefield.  Use specific textual evidence to defend this idea.

As the students read, I could see the excited looks on their faces as they came across ever more exciting material – many made grossed out sounds (in a good way) as they wrote down their answers.  It took a bit of reminding from me for the students to not share with each other until everyone was finished.  As soon as I allowed the time for pair/share, the students became animated in their responses as they tried to show who had found the most pieces of evidence.  They excitedly flipped back and forth through the pages, pointing out to each other items that stood out or that others had missed.  As I circulated through the class, I smiled as I watched them engaged in a skill-based lesson as they perfectly showcased how to annotate a text.  Previously, we had been working on annotating the textbook, but that lesson was a much tougher sell, albeit an important one.  My favorite part of the lesson was when students realized that they could use pictures, in addition to text, to defend their answers.  Often, students will skip maps, pictures, etc. in a textbook – this drove home the importance of viewing all parts of a resource in order to develop the whole picture.

Below is what the students pulled out –

•Terrorist strike force – burning villages and shooting arrows from horseback – “king cannot protect you”
•Put arrows in the ground to get them dirty – germs in wounds
•Within 50 yards – arrows punch through plate mail
•Swallowheads– against horses.
•Barbs  –  hook and stay in flesh
•Fire in huge volleys
•Kill the enemy at different spots – pile up the bodies and make it hard for cavalry to charge
•8 arrows in forty seconds – time for best knights to cross field
•Misericord – small dagger to kill unhorsed knights
•Target horses!
•Ordinary Englishmen killed nobles – not supposed to happen
This lesson took all of about 20-25 minutes and the students absolutely loved it!  As they left, they were still discussing what they learned and how excited they were to have read such an awesome comic book in class.  We continued this line of thinking in the next class as I showed an iMovie I had created on the Danse Macabre.  I had the students look at many drawings/paintings of the Bubonic Plague as Iron Maiden’s Dance of Death played in the background.  Their task was to showcase who was affected by the Plague (using specific examples), how to describe the time period, and to summarize the lesson in one word.
       Following is the link for the powerpoint I used in the class  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0q0hv_n2-9xYWtMSW03LUhLUVk/view?usp=sharing – I hope it is viewable.  If you would like a copy of anything, or more information, I look forward to hearing from you – historycomicsguy@gmail.com  or @historycomics


3 thoughts on “100 Years War through comics

  1. Great work. I think the 100 years war in particular gets glossed over in textbooks due to its political complexity. Good job getting them hooked on learning more about it.

  2. An excellent lesson. Accessible to all ability ranges as well. The intricacies of the 100 Years War leave it a ‘closed war’ all too often – like the Wars of the Roses. I am impressed, as I am sure your (now hugely eager) students must have been.

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