How will these resources help you?

Historically, many schools have opted to teach about the Whitechapel murders of 1888, and many/most of these have centred their studies around a pursuit of the unknown Jack the Ripper. Questions like ‘who was Jack the Ripper?’ or ‘what can sources tell us about Jack the Ripper?’ have put the mysterious murderer at the heart of their pupils’ thinking. In recent years this approach has been criticised as it often seems to fetishize the murders, reducing the victims to dehumanised footnotes in the hunt for the killer. When examined through this lens, the deeply flawed evidence base requires historical expertise for pupils not to paint the women in simplistic tropes. Perhaps worst of all, by only introducing the women as victims, these approaches can cause pupils to wonder what they had done to 'deserve' their fate. These resources have been useful for me in looking to explore this frequently taught topic from a different angle.

Victims’ perspectives

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

by Hallie Rubenhold, published by Penguin, (2019), 9780857524485

Rubenhold’s award-winning book starts with the premise that the five women who were murdered deserve to be known as people first, victims a distant second. Rubenhold trawls through the patchy source base to produce coherent narratives of the lives of each of the five women, lovingly telling their stories away from Jack the Ripper’s shadow. By framing the history around their stories, I found I could still cover the context, personalities, laws and gender expectations, and develop a deep sense of understanding about the period.

Context and sense of period

The Worst Street in London

by Fiona Rule, published by The History Press, (2018), 9780750989848

Rule’s book is used by teachers looking to approach this period from a different angle. In it, she explores Dorset Street, Spitalfields, known for its varied and controversial past. By following the people and misdeeds that took place throughout the late Victorian period in just this pocket of the East End of London, I found I could cover all sorts of stories that reveal what life was like at the time. 

Sensitive overview of the murders

Hodder GCSE History for Edexcel: Crime and punishment through time, c1000–present, Part 2 (pp. 114–163)

by Alec Fisher and Ed Podesta, published by Hodder, (2016), 9781471861727

Though this textbook is aimed at Key Stage 4 students, the relevant section is suitable for Key Stage 3 pupils. The authors have gone to great lengths to 
avoid using simplistic sources or sensationalist narratives that distort the history and dehumanise the women. The section on Whitechapel in the 1880s aims to balance social issues, and the political history of crime and policing in the East End.

Audiovisual clips

Timewatch - The East End

published by BBC, (1988)

In opposition to the publications who focussed on the West End provenance of the murderer, other newspapers exploited the criminal events to campaign for more policing and against the East End's population. This clip expands on this dichotomy. 
Timewatch - Mary Jane Kelly

published by BBC, (1988)

This clip expands on who Mary Jane Kelly, believed to be Jack's last victim, was.
Timewatch - Legacy of Jack the Ripper

published by BBC, (1988)

This video explains how the legend of Jack the Ripper was created by news editors on very scant materials, and why it has fascinated so many people through the ages, leaving very little attention to the victims.
A House Through Time - Class and domestic abuse in Victorian Britain

published by BBC, (2020)

How was abuse on women perceived by the Victorian society? This clip shows that violence against wives was not openly condemned, and therefore violence against prostitutes was even expected by the prude society Jack's victims lived in. 

Podcast episode

RETEACH HISTORY - Katie Amery and Simon Beale on Making the Curriculum Inclusive


Katie Amery, Head of History in Liverpool, and Simon Beale, Head of History and Politics in London, join host Carmel Bones to discuss how they've used Reteach to redesign their curriculum offer to be more inclusive and representative. They share practical tips and real-life case studies on approaching 'hard history' topics that are often tricky to tackle. looting, Nazi Germany, the legacy of the British Empire and finding new perspectives to engage KS3 and KS4 students.

Further Materials

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden, published by Robinson, (2002), 9781841193977 Find this book
Charles Booth’s London - Poverty maps and police notebooks, published by London School of Economics Visit website
This incredible resource overlays the map of modern London on Charles Booth’s maps of deprivation, which he began collating in 1886. This resource comes with information and sources on specific aspects of concern to Booth, such as alcohol and drug use, and migrant populations. I have used this as a stimulus to get pupils asking questions about the period, without racing into Jack the Ripper and his murders. 
National Archive Learning Curve resource: Jack the Ripper, published by The National Archives Visit website
These electronic sources from the contemporary investigation into the murders offer a range of fascinating transcribed resources, which come with contextual notes and suggested activities. The depth of coverage and quality of the notes allow teachers to move away from simplistic questions about what the sources reveal about who the murderer was, to interesting questions about societal attitudes and gender expectations. Again, these resources are marketed as being for Key Stage 4 but, given the support and guidance offered to teachers, they can be used with Key Stage 3 pupils.
Will Bailey-Watson is Subject Lead for PGCE History at the University of Reading. He is co-host of Those Who Can, a podcast designed to help teachers reflect on their practice, and co-author of the website meanwhile, elsewhere…, which teaches students about historical events happening around the world at the same time as those on the curriculum.

Text © Will Bailey-Watson, 2020.