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Book of the week: Trainees tell it like it was

Becoming Teachers: texts and testimonies 1907-1950
By Peter Cunningham and Philip Gardner
Woburn Press pound;60; pound;18.99 (pbk)

Oral history, like its closely related genre, life history, is an increasingly popular form of enquiry. It is challenging to undertake and absorbing to read.

There is nothing new about the approach, indeed it predates writing. I remember being intrigued, when I was doing a masters degree at Leicester University in the 1960s, at the tape-recorded interviews with retired teachers collected by Malcolm Seaborne, who was on the staff at the time and who produced an excellent pictorial history of education.

Peter Cunningham and Philip Gardner have gone a step further and established an archive of teacher memory at Cambridge University, where they teach. It is a good move, for individual oral history dies with its holder if nobody captures a record of it. Their book, Becoming Teachers, is a thorough and lively account of a unique group of student-teachers, based on interviews with some of them and analysis of the relevant documentation.

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