Wednesday 16 October 2019

Learning History through Ads

We were delighted to have Sriram Nanganathan come and give an absolutely fascinating talk on History.  Sriram used old advertisements to drive home the point that history is just as much about common people, values, lifestyles and mores as about kings, wars and conquests.  He showed different ads to kids and asked them thoughtful questions - "What does this ad convey?" "What was the shared assumptions in those days?" "Would you see such an ad now?" 

Here is a blog write up about the talk by a student:

On the 27th of September, we had a class all about History. Or more specifically, how it has changed.

Now it’s easy to look at a really old civilizations and compare it to how we live now. But what we didn’t realise is that even our more recent history can vary from the present.

Old documents such as newspapers and advertisements can help us learn what it was like back then. We can identify old articles and advertisements and ask ourselves would these be published in a newspaper now?

An example of an ad that you would not find nowadays is one titled “Shikar”. The ad basically invited people to come to India, shoot tigers and KEEP them as if they were some type of trophy.  By looking at the bottom of the ad we can see that it was published in multiple places, most of them being from the West. So, we can say that this ad was directed to other people from the West and was inviting them to shoot a tiger and take it home. Hurting an animal was not really punishable back then, so people could easily get away with it.

By looking at old ads or pamphlets, we can also say that things that are affordable and easily available would have been a lot more expensive and rarer back then, such as radios and record players and weddings. However, there’s another side of this spectrum, where things that are a lot more expensive now, would have been a lot cheaper back then. Such as train tickets and flights. Things such as air-conditioned trains with breakfast, lunch and dinner service were considered a luxury earlier. This is why they chose to highlight those luxuries in this ad.

Of course, we couldn’t have found out things such as sweets – when consumed in large amounts – are not good for us without trial and error first. Before we had done scientific tests proving that sugary items (when consumed in large amounts) can affect us badly, you could find ads encouraging people to eat more sugar – with the headings like “Put more sugar in your tea!” Ads that encouraged parents to make their children watch television could also be found. However, once you read the ads, in this context, it’s not as bizarre as you would think.  Basically, the ads explain how parents can used a child’s urge to watch TV to their advantage. For example, “Mona Kausar! Do your homework and you’ll get an extra half hour of TV Time!” Some parents still do this even though it creates the mindset for the child that “Oh!!! Do my homework because I want to watch the telly!” Ad they forget that this is not good for their future and well-being.

So history isn’t always old civilizations and ancient artifacts. It could also be any thing or idea from a little earlier that has evolved. We humans are always coming up with ways to find links to our past.

- Ishaal Azeez, Grade 7

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