St Joseph Junior Lyceum – Corradino
Teaching about the Malta and the Maltese in the Middle Ages:

Form 2s on Historical Fieldwork and Treasure Hunt – Mdina 27.4.06

History teachers would agree that teaching 12-year olds about the Middle Ages in Malta can prove quite a daunting task. Students might easily be tempted to dismiss this topic as “irrelevant” and primary sources are, unfortunately, not so plentiful.

Mr Micallef, the History teacher in charge of Form 2 classes at St Joseph Boys’ Junior Lyceum, decided to tackle the topic through:
(a) a historical fieldwork trip, and
(b) a treasure hunt.

Both activities were carried out in the old capital city of Mdina on Thursday 27th April.

On the morning of 27th April the students of Form 2B and 2D were briefed about the outing by their teacher Mr Micallef and by Mr Tony Pace, History Co-Ordinator at the same school.

Having arrived at Mdina, the students were first shown round the old capital city and asked to “observe”. Briefings were held beside Palazzo De Vilhena, at St Paul’s (Cathedral) Square, St Agatha’s Esplanade and Greeks’ Gate. The fieldwork notes prepared by Mr Micallef came in very handy during these preliminary “on site” explanations.

(If you are interested in carrying out a similar activity, you can view these fieldwork notes at the following URL belonging to the History Website of the Curriculum Department -:

During the historical briefings a lot of space was given to “incidental teaching”. To take just one example, tourists being such a common sight at Mdina, students were encouraged to reflect on how tourism today is helping the Maltese economy: tourist guides and chauffeurs earn their living directly from the tourist industry while bus drivers’ and even farmers’ incomes are indirectly linked to tourism. It is calculated that about 40% of Maltese workers earn their living directly or indirectly from tourism. It was pointed out that today tourism is as important to the Maltese economy as the Dockyard was 50 years ago.

All students agreed that the recent paving project at Mdina was very ‘worthwhile’ because unsightly wires had been removed and Mdina looks far more attractive.

At the Cathedral Archives, the students had the rare opportunity of taking a close look at the Militia List of 1419-20.

(Photo shows students examining the Militia List).

Through a series of questions, Mr Micallef and Mr Pace led students onto a better awareness of Medieval issues, historical concepts and skills. Examples of such concepts and skills were:

  1. Primary Source: the Militia List

  2. Secondary Source: the article by Dr G Wettinger about the Militia List

  3. Continuity and Change:Comparisons were made with present population trends. Today Birkirkara is the largest settlement in Malta with about 21,775 inhabitants (November 2005 Census); the Militia List of 1419 shows the greatest concentration of Dejma soldiers (234) at Rabat. Bircalcara had 89 activists. Asked to note lost or deserted villages since 1419, immediately Eal Millieri came to their mind.

  4. Mdina: the Maltese capital city – from 1995 to 2005 Mdina proportionately lost most residents with a decline of 31.6 per cent. Today only 258 persons live in Mdina.

  5. Empathy: children were invited to share feelings (fear, anxiety etc) when all males (16 to 65 year olds) would answer a call for arms (the nafra); what would wives, siblings, relatives do while males were out fighting pirates?

  6. Relevance: leafing carefully through the pages, the students found surnames Tanti and Zammit, surnames still very common today.

Students simply couldn’t stop asking questions:

  • Where was the List found?

  • Who found it?

  • How were Dejma soldiers armed?

  • Who commanded them?

  • Were they often killed?

  • Did they train for battle very often?

  • Who trained them?

  • How are documents conserved and restored?

If you are interested in the MILITIA LIST visit the Curriculum Department’s History Website at: ..\..\wirt\Dejma\ListaMilizjaNOTI.htm

The last activity for the morning was a treasure hunt prepared by Mr Micallef. Students were divided into teams consisting of three students each, then given a set of papers with clues which they were to solve and complete in the least possible time. It was an exciting finale to a day in which History came alive and History teaching became more effective! It was a hands on experience which many students appreciated not least because it was unusual and physically tiring!

You can view Treasure Hunt Notes at: