Changing the narrative: Exploring Gallipoli through empathy

Changing the narrative: Exploring Gallipoli through empathy

‘The range of emotions that students come up with is confronting and powerful.’ Learning Innovation Specialist Donald James describes how the Learning Team have helped children empathise with war.

Through the eyes of giants

The first time I visited Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War I was completely overwhelmed. As anyone who has visited knows, the exhibition is set out as a timeline of New Zealand’s involvement in the eight-month long Gallipoli campaign.

The ground-breaking exhibition tells the story through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Each is captured as a sculpture, frozen in a moment of time, on a monumental scale – 2.4 times human size.

Richard Taylor stands with some of the giants in the Gallipoli exhibition
Weta Workshop’s Sir Richard Taylor with the machine gunners trio, 2015. Photo by Michael Hall. Te Papa

I found that I needed more time than I could give the experience, to reflect on how it was making me feel.

The impact of the true stories was confronting to me as I saw the war through the eyes of the giants.

The curation of objects, 3D maps and projections, miniatures, models, dioramas, and a range of interactive experiences, paints a very detailed picture and I found it impossible to see and absorb everything in one visit.

Empathy and learning

It’s a lot to ask the children who visit Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War to be empathetic to those who lived and died during the campaign.

With very little frame of reference to the pain, desperation, and squalor of that time, the facts of war can seem distant and unrelatable.

Many children never met their relatives who fought in the war and never heard the stories first hand.

It’s a challenge to make the exhibition relevant to school students beyond a unit in their history curriculum.

We believe the context of Gallipoli is important enough that all generations should be able to connect with it on a human level.

If we want visitors to leave Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War with anything, it’s the knowledge of how the people who experienced it felt.

It’s a language that all humans can understand and it’s important to allow us to be empathetic to the experience of others.

Students use 3D scanners to record their emotional responses outside Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibition, Te Papa
Students from Our Lady of Victories School respond to Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War using 3D scanning. Photo by Jessie Robieson, Te Papa, 2018

Giving kids the opportunity for a personal connection

We’ve developed a learning programme which gives students the opportunity to explore the emotional experience of Gallipoli veterans.

By focusing on relatable feelings and emotions students are given the tools to have a personal connection to the stories in the exhibition.

We want students to understand how it makes them feel as well as knowing how the people who went through Gallipoli felt.

The learning programme: Gallipoli Perspectives

There are two parts to the learning programme. The first is an educator-led tour through the exhibition which focuses mostly on the incredibly detailed sculptures created by Weta Workshop.

The giants are in their own room, there’s a soundtrack playing which includes words about their experience, and it’s carefully lit to invite contemplation.

We focus the discussion on emotions and how they are made manifest through the physical postures of the sculptures.

The students are encouraged to ‘read’ the sculpture’s emotional state by looking at how they hold their bodies and faces.

We discuss those emotions and why they might be feeling them in that moment.

The purpose of this is to introduce the emotional weight of war to students and give them vocabulary and context for how these ordinary New Zealanders were affected by the war.

Kids creating a 3d scan outside of the Gallipoli exhibition
Kids creating a 3d scan outside of the Gallipoli exhibition, 2017. Photograph by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa

Tech and emotions

The second part of the programme uses a rapid 3D scanning process to scan students posed in a tableau that represents a feeling or emotion.

The 3D scanning can take anywhere from 3–10 minutes depending on how careful and detailed the students are trying to be.

These 3D scans can be converted into very simple Virtual Reality (VR) experiences using Sketchfab, a free online VR platform and the models scaled up to the size of giants.

They can even be used back at school as writing or art prompts and combined with audio recordings or annotated.

The examples below are screenshots of 3D scans created by students from Our Lady of Victories School.

If you have a cardboard viewer and a smartphone you can see these models in VR for yourself by going to our Sketchfab account.

Two girls sit on the ground to console their weeping friend.

Two girls sit on the floor and look down to mourn the loss of a friend.

One girls carries a friend across her back while comforting another friend stretched on the ground.

Four students create a scene about responding to the death of a friend.

Students recreate a war scene of two soldiers protecting their injured comrades in battle.

Three students create a scene of a soldier being shot in close quarters while ghosts on the battlefield watch.
Students from Our Lady of Victories School respond to Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War using 3D scanning in the Gallipoli Perspectives learning programme, 2018. Te Papa

The agency to perform and practice deep emotions

The range of emotions that students come up with is confronting and powerful.

There are few experiences where children are given the agency to perform and practice deep emotions.

In this programme we are asking students to explore and understand their own emotional range, and these are things that are often very difficult for people to talk or write about.

The emotions of fear, pride, anger, disgust, hope, and sadness are universal and translatable to all of us.

If children are to understand what war is, we believe we should teach them emotional intelligence and with it comes understanding, empathy, and tolerance.

If you would like to know more about our Gallipoli Perspectives learning programme get in touch by emailing

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