Spartacus Blog

Spartacus needs your help in continuing to provide free educational materials

Monday, 4th September, 2017

John Simkin

Twenty-years ago this month, all history departments in the United Kingdom received an unusual gift. It was a Spartacus Educational mouse-mat giving details of a new free website.

I first started teaching in 1977 and three years later was a member of a small group of teachers who established Tressell Publications. In 1984, along with my wife, I started Spartacus Educational. It was such a great success that I gave up full-time teaching in 1987 and concentrated on publishing educational books and software.

Business was good until Rupert Murdoch entered educational publishing by buying William Collins (later HarperCollins). By the early 1990s the company was publishing full-colour history books for the classroom that were cheaper than I could get my own books printed in England. Murdoch achieved this by having the books produced in Third World countries. He also had the capital to order large print-runs to keep the costs low. The game was up and like the other sixteen small independent educational publishers, we stopped producing books. In 1995 I returned to the classroom and left my wife to sell-off the stock.

I was teaching at Sackville Comprehensive School when I discovered the internet in 1996. At the time there were very few websites available. For example, only one newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, had a website. It was looking at the Nine Planets, a multimedia website that contained encyclopedic information about the Solar System, when I realised the potential the medium had for education.

At the time I was producing local history booklets for my students. This included a study of the women's suffrage movement in East Grinstead, including the biographies of Marie Corbett, Margery Ashby and Cicely Fisher. I thought that if I could find a way of putting this material on the web, it could be used by other local teachers with the internet. I bought a copy of Coral Webmaster and began constructing a website. A local internet provider agreed to sponsor the venture by paying the online costs of the website. As well as local women I also produced biographies of others involved in the struggle. By the summer of 1997 I had enough material to launch the Emancipation of Women section of the Spartacus Educational website.

With the last of our savings we sent out the mouse-mat to schools in September 1997. At the time there was no way you could make money from a website. That is why other educational publishers did not follow our example. I wrote the new material in my spare-time. I also uploaded material that had previously been published in book form by Spartacus Educational. It was all for free. Now it was impossible for Rupert Murdoch to undercut us.

To encourage other teachers to provide free materials I helped establish the Association of Teacher Websites. I was also a member of the European Virtual School and the European History E-Learning Project (E-Help), a project to encourage and improve use of ICT and the internet in classrooms across the continent.

Five members of the People's Will being executed on 3rd April, 1881

Over the next few years other companies launched websites: Google (September, 1998), The Guardian (January, 1999), Wikipedia (January, 2001), Facebook (February, 2004) and Twitter (March, 2006). I remained in the classroom until the launch of Google AdSense in March 2003. It was now possible to work full-time on the website. By August, 2017, the Spartacus Website contained 20,158,647 words and 32,065 sources.

After we lost our sponsorship, Spartacus Educational was able to pay for the website from advertising. This is no longer the case. Like other free websites we are struggling to recover our production costs. At the same time, Google has introduced domain-rankings that gives preference to major corporations.

Spartacus Educational is committed to producing free content, especially to those countries that find it difficult to purchase books, but we need your help. There are several things you could do for us. (1) Do not use ad-blocker. (2) Share our pages via Twitter, Facebook, etc. (3) Make a small donation or a small monthly subscription. For more details, see our Support Us page.

John Simkin


Previous Posts

The Hidden History of Ruskin College (17th August, 2017)

Underground child labour in the coal mining industry did not come to an end in 1842 (2nd August, 2017)

Raymond Asquith, killed in a war declared by his father (28th June, 2017)

History shows since it was established in 1896 the Daily Mail has been wrong about virtually every political issue. (4th June, 2017)

The House of Lords needs to be replaced with a House of the People (7th May, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Caroline Norton (28th March, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Mary Wollstonecraft (20th March, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Anne Knight (23rd February, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Elizabeth Heyrick (12th January, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons: Where are the Women? (28th December, 2016)

The Death of Liberalism: Charles and George Trevelyan (19th December, 2016)

Donald Trump and the Crisis in Capitalism (18th November, 2016)

Victor Grayson and the most surprising by-election result in British history (8th October, 2016)

Left-wing pressure groups in the Labour Party (25th September, 2016)

The Peasant's Revolt and the end of Feudalism (3rd September, 2016)

Leon Trotsky and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (15th August, 2016)

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England (7th August, 2016)

The Media and Jeremy Corbyn (25th July, 2016)

Rupert Murdoch appoints a new prime minister (12th July, 2016)

George Orwell would have voted to leave the European Union (22nd June, 2016)

Is the European Union like the Roman Empire? (11th June, 2016)

Is it possible to be an objective history teacher? (18th May, 2016)

Women Levellers: The Campaign for Equality in the 1640s (12th May, 2016)

The Reichstag Fire was not a Nazi Conspiracy: Historians Interpreting the Past (12th April, 2016)

Why did Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst join the Conservative Party? (23rd March, 2016)

Mikhail Koltsov and Boris Efimov - Political Idealism and Survival (3rd March, 2016)

Why the name Spartacus Educational? (23rd February, 2016)

Right-wing infiltration of the BBC (1st February, 2016)

Bert Trautmann, a committed Nazi who became a British hero (13th January, 2016)

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)

Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)

Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)

The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)

Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)

Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)

David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)

Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)

Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage (22nd August, 2015)

Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)

The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)

Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)

The long history of the Daily Mail campaigning against the interests of working people (7th May, 2015)

Nigel Farage would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he lived during the reign of Henry VIII (5th May, 2015)

Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)

Why it is important to study the life and death of Margaret Cheyney in the history classroom (15th April, 2015)

Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)

Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)

The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)

The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)

The Anglocentric and Sexist misrepresentation of historical facts in The Imitation Game (2nd December, 2014)

The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)

Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)

Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)

The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)