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History - Say no to nostalgia

What it's all about

One of the great problems for history teaching, particularly in a nation with as long a history as the UK, is how to select what to teach, writes Barbara Hibbert.

Should the main focus be political or cultural? Religious, economic or social? Concerned with long periods of time or with study in depth? Do our schools focus on Hitler to the exclusion of "Our Island Story"?

David Cannadine's recent book, The Right Kind of History, gives a national and an international perspective on the history of history teaching. It appears that those calling for school history to be a means of inculcating national identity are in good company. In 2010, Vladimir Putin commissioned a new textbook giving an "approved version of Russian history" that played down "the excesses of the Communist regime" and stressed "the heroic achievements of the Russian people in defeating Hitler".

In 1934, Stalin complained of history textbooks, "It's all epochs and no facts, no events, no people, no concrete information." He preferred history as a cavalcade of national heroes.

One question raised, though, is whether "being able to recite the dates of the reigns of successive kings and queens" itself promotes "a collective feeling of national belonging". Cannadine makes clear that the idea of some "golden age" of history teaching is a myth. Most children only gained access to secondary education after the Second World War, and even then public examinations were largely denied to the majority, who attended secondary moderns or junior secondaries. Little history was taught to them.

What else?

Test pupils' knowledge of British history with a quiz from English Banana Trust.

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