Cities are places where cultures and languages co-exist ~ they are places of diversity, and of constant population change.  Migration has brought people together in cities, over hundreds of years.  ‘Living archives’ uses archive material to explore migration stories, through Geography and History.

Key sections:

What is it about cities ~ and migration?
What does this mean for global learning?
Teaching activities
Further ideas

What is it about cities ~ and migration?

Half the world’s population lives in urban areas.  Migration to cities has always been a common factor in their development: they would not exist without the movement of people within and between countries.  Investigating push and pull factors helps us understand the implications of migration on people’s lives.

We are all migrants in some way, and this experience connects us to people around the world.  Among the wide range of reasons for migration is the aspiration to seek a ‘better life’ - economically, environmentally, culturally or socially. Travelling to a job [daily, weekly or longer term] is a common migration experience.  At the extreme end of the migration spectrum, people are forced to leave one place for another due to conflict, slavery or disaster.

Cities are the places people most often migrate to.  For those involved in planning for the future of cities, understanding the needs of people arriving in them is crucial.  There is often an area within a city which many people come to as new citizens, moving on to other areas as their economic and social status become more established. 

This leads to particular areas receiving, over time, layers of people from different cultures, and with a range of backgrounds, some experiencing traumatic circumstances.  For example, the area around Brick Lane in the East End of London has, over hundreds of years, seen successive arrivals of Irish, Huguenot, Jewish and Bangladeshi people, who have all established homes and communities in the area.

What does this mean for global learning?

All forms of migration have implications for community cohesion, identity and diversity, health and wellbeing, and people’s sense of belonging.  These are all important matters for young people, and for us as teachers, and we need opportunities to explore the causes and implications of migration as a local and global issue, and to investigate, with sensitivity, personal experiences of migration. 

Enabling global learning in the KS3 curriculum proposes an entitlement to global learning for young people and suggests a range of CPD activities to support discussions with colleagues which teacher groups have found useful.  Building on these ideas, a group of teachers have explored ways of expressing progression in global learning, [Link new pdf] and have developed a proposed framework based around existing criteria for Citizenship, PLTS, Literacy, Geography and PSHE.  We’d be very interested in your comments about this framework.

Teaching activities

Local archive collections offer opportunities to investigate real experiences of migration in an exciting, affirming and meaningful way.  An initial exploration of a small selection of materials may bring to light discussions about people’s own personal and family migration stories, alongside issues of power, representation, diversity, identity and community cohesion. 

With this in mind, key issues for Birmingham Heritage and Archives include ensuring that documentation of population change in Birmingham is fair and representative; and enabling communities [including young people], to contribute to the process of creating community archives.

Nikki Thorpe, Birmingham Heritage and Archives Team explains:
‘A great positive in study of cities and migration is that pretty much everyone has moved to the city at some point, so movement of people, migration - on small and large scale - will be within the experience of all students and their families.’

As part of the project developing the materials you are now looking at, Birmingham Heritage and Archives shared stories of people’s migration near and far, long ago and recent, with a group of teachers.  They looked particularly at the stories of two Birmingham residents: Henry Bate and and Mahmood Hashmi. 

Henry Bate was taken into Middlemore Homes in Birmingham in November 1904 as a child.  He was sent to Canada for a 'new life' by Middlemore Homes.  Click here for further detail.

Saltley Grocer

Mahmood Hashmi is a well known Urdu writer who arrived in Britain from Pakistan in 1953.  He gained a postgraduate certificate in education from Leeds University, becoming the first black teacher in Birmingham 1956.  Click here for further detail.

The teaching ideas and activities shared below use these two stories as a stimulus for geographical and historical enquiry.  They were developed with teachers from The Broadway School, Birmingham, Smestow School, Wolverhampton] and Birmingham Heritage and Archives

These teachers said:

‘We chose a flexible approach to the development of the activities and support materials; teachers can choose how they wish to make their way though the activities.  We felt that it was important that the resources appealed to History and Geography subject specialists, as well as those teachers delivering a combined Humanities course.  However, there are many ways that the materials could be used.’

The activities offer an enquiry approach as a model for working with local archives through Geography and History, and for developing Personal Learning and Thinking Skills.  The approach uses a series of key questions to explore issues, and culminates in the young people creating an archive of their own.  Through this process, young people mimic the role of archivists, choosing what should be represented and how.  We hope that this will inspire you to make links with your own local archives.

Further ideas

If you are interested in this section, you may also find that focussing on democracy and influence [Link webpage] useful.  This focuses on cities as hubs for political and social change, drawing on the examples of the 2011 Arab Spring and UK riots.

When people migrate, they bring their languages with them.  The patterns of language speakers in cities are therefore an indicator of population movement.

Did you know that …

  • only 30% of French speakers live in France? [Source: OIF]
  • New York City is the most linguistically diverse city in the world, with some experts suggesting that there are up to 800 languages spoken there?  [Source: New York Times, 2010, Listening to (and saving) the world’s languages]
  • Over 300 languages are spoken in London? [Source: Regional Language Network London, 2008]

The reasons for the movement of people, and therefore the spread of languages, are many and varied.  Intercultural understanding through languages shares a range of ways to explore commonality and difference, through a focus on language teaching.

The enquiry approach we offer here is one approach to exploring migration stories.  An alternative starting point might be community cohesion, or the plight of refugees.  Tide~ recommends a range of support materials for addressing these controversial and sensitive issues.  The Positive Images  toolkit from British Red Cross offers short films about migration, and related activities for young people. 

Refugee boy

Starting with a story can engage young people with issues about migration.  ‘Boy Overboard’ by Morris Gleitzman, ‘The Silence Seeker’ by Ben Morley and ‘Refugee Boy’ by Benjamin Zephaniah are powerful books exploring issues about refugees and asylum seekers.




  • Saltley grocers image - Reproduced by kind permission of Nick Hedges
  • Saltley News cutting - Reproduced by kind permission of Mahmood Hashmi.
  • Map of Canada and  Henry Bate image - Reproduced with permission of Birmingham Libraries & Archives.

Back to Cities, people and change main page - click here