Exploration 1A: For Teachers - Backgrounds to the Stories

1A.1: “Aftermath of a Battle”

Solferino map
Solferino is a small town in what is now northern Italy. Although the people of the Italian peninsula share a common language and culture, Italy was not, during all the years after the fall of the Roman Empire, a united nation. In the period preceding the unification of Italy in 1861, the peninsula was home to a number of principalities. They were often dominated by their more powerful neighbours, mainly France and Austria. Both nations had attempted to control northern Italy. Most people living in Solferino and its surrounding villages were neither French nor Austrian. The example of the French Revolution, and almost two decades of the domination of northern Italy by Napoleonic France, sparked a movement for a unified Italian state, free from foreign control. This movement culminated in a number of revolutions in 1848. All the revolutions failed, and Austrian troops came to occupy much of northern and central Italy. One area of the Italian peninsula that retained some independence was the Kingdom of Piedmont (Sardinia), ruled by King Victor Emmanuel II.

Events leading up to the story

Piedmont and France formed a military alliance in the 1850s. Their plan was to manoeuvre Austria into declaring war on Piedmont, so that France could come to Piedmont’s assistance. The plan worked, and Austria declared war in 1859. At the Battle of Solferino, the French and Sardinian armies, under Napoleon III, faced the forces of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I. On 24 June 1859, about 300,000 hungry soldiers, exhausted by many days of forced marches, clashed all day long, in and around the town of Solferino, until the Austrians made a desperate retreat. The plain on which the battle took place had been turned into a muddy mess by heavy rain, the struggling feet of weary soldiers and the hooves of horses. The next morning, when the curious came to view the carnage, the ground was covered with thousands of dead and dying soldiers.


1A.2: “A Witness Comes Forward”

South Africa map
South Africa, located at the southern tip of Africa, is home to 43.5 million people. The Dutch established a colony there in 1652. Until then, the whole area had been inhabited exclusively by a number of African tribes. In 1814, the Dutch ceded the region to Britain. By the end of the nineteenth century, British rule extended north and east to the current borders of South Africa. In 1910, the Union of South Africa was created; it was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, and would later become a member of what came to be known as ‘the British Commonwealth.’ Its government and economy were designed to be dominated by the white minority. The government periodically created laws to strengthen ‘white rule.’ The National Party, which ruled South Africa from 1948 until 1994, was responsible for the passage of many of these laws. This system of racial discrimination against non-white people was called ‘apartheid.’ It used racial classification to restrict the lives of non-white people: where they could live, the jobs they could hold, their education and their involvement in politics.
South Africa Population Distribution 1995
Events leading up to the story

The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 for the purpose of achieving equality for the non-white peoples of South Africa. In 1961, the country – now the Republic of South Africa – withdrew from the British Commonwealth, and the government took steps to further strengthen apartheid. In the 1970s and 1980s, the South African government lost a great deal of international support. World opinion turned against apartheid in reaction to media coverage of the government’s use of violence.

By 1990, it had become clear that apartheid was doomed. Major anti-apartheid organizations like the ANC were legalized and their leaders released from prison or allowed to return from exile. Much of the legislation establishing apartheid was repealed. The government and major political parties worked on creating a new constitution and negotiated a process for instituting majority rule. Negotiations broke down in June 1992 when the ANC accused the government of involvement in attacks against its supporters. The process resumed in March 1993, after the government acknowledged that the police had a responsibility to protect ANC members. Apartheid was abolished, and the first free elections were held in 1994.


1A.3: “Alone on the Bench”

Map of the USA in the '50's

Arkansas is a state in the southern United States of America. Little Rock is the largest city and the state’s capital. In the late 1950s, the population of Arkansas was 77% white and 22% African-American.

Before 1954, most schools in the American South were racially segregated. African-American children were not allowed to attend the same schools as white children. Generally, schools for African-Americans were poorly funded compared to those for white children. They often needed repairs and lacked basic supplies. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court decided that segregating schools by race was illegal. The court ordered that ‘whites-only’ schools must be opened up to African-American students “with all deliberate speed.”

To comply with the Supreme Court order, the school board of the city of Little Rock announced that the city’s all-white secondary school could now accept African-American students. On the first day of the school year in September 1957, nine African-American children planned to enrol in Central High School in Little Rock. At a meeting the day before, the school superintendent had told the parents of the African-American students that he would not be able to protect them if they accompanied their children to school. The governor of Arkansas sent the state’s National Guard (a military force controlled by the state government) into Little Rock, claiming that there was a danger of violence. The Guardsmen prevented the African-American children from entering the school. A large crowd of white people had also gathered around the school to stop the children from entering.


  • Infoplease
  • Funk and Wagnalls
  • Wikipedia
  • Daniel Boorstin, Brooks Kelley, Ruth Boorstin, A History of the United States, Ginn and Company, Lexington MA, 1981.
  • Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, David McKay, New York, 1962.

1A.4: “Step by Step”

Poland Map

At the start of World War II, Poland covered a territory of about 375,000 square kilometres. Parts of Poland were claimed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Before World War II, Poland had significant minority populations of Germans, Russians and Ukrainians. Historically, Jews who were persecuted in and expelled from much of Europe had been welcome in Poland. There, they had practised their religion and built their own schools. Jews in Poland continued to have a special relationship with Polish rulers. That is one of the reasons why a large Jewish community flourished in Poland. When World War II began, almost 3,350,000 Jews were living in Poland. Only 90,000 Polish Jews survived the war.

The German invasion of Poland, on 1 September 1939, marked the start of World War II. Less than three weeks later, the Soviet Union also invaded Poland. The Polish government fled to London. Much of its armed forces fled to other European countries to continue to fight the Germans. The Polish underground, dedicated to fighting the Germans, was especially active in Warsaw. In June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and that part of Poland occupied by the Soviet army. By the end of the month, all of Poland was in German hands.

Events leading up to the story

The Nazis created many concentration camps in Poland. These camps were used to exterminate Polish Jews, Poles who opposed the German occupation and Jews brought from other countries. Warsaw’s 450,000 Jews were first crowded together into a separate part of the city, now known to history as the Warsaw Ghetto. Then they were deported to concentration camps.

On 1 August 1944, the Polish underground changed its tactics. It began an open, armed struggle against the Nazis. On 2 October, the leader of the Polish fighters surrendered. After the surrender, the Nazis transported most of the residents of Warsaw to camps in Germany or forced them to move to other Polish towns and cities.


1A.5: “Brave Shopkeeper”

Bosnia and Herzegovina map

Thailand is a country in South-East Asia. Bangkok is the largest city, and also the capital of the country.

Before World War II, Thailand’s economy was based on agriculture. More recently, Thailand’s economy has become more industrial and urban. While this change has increased the country’s overall wealth, it has also caused difficulties. Environmental problems and a lack of access to land have forced many Thais to move from the countryside to the city. Although some find employment, many do not. This has caused an increase in urban homelessness and crime. Thailand also has a growing problem in the form of youth gangs in Bangkok and other urban areas.