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Past masters go on record

Sean Lang is impressed by the standard of today's history textbook publishers

The Historical Association's annual education conference is a date in any publisher's calendar, and they were all there in Manchester last week, taking orders for inspection copies like there's no tomorrow.

Long gone are the days of two-tone pictures or pages in green or orange wash: these books are beautifully presented, with plenty of new ideas. Whatever else the national curriculum has done, it has not stunted the creativity of textbook authors.

The Hodder 20th Century History topic books for GCSE are edited by Neil DeMarco, after the sad death of the series' founder John Aylett. The thorough, often arresting text is a worthy tribute to a master of historical writing for children.

Heinemann and Longman have been giving welcome thought to the problem of making history accessible to the lower attainer. Heinemann's Living Through History series works through parallel core and foundation books, which carry the same illustrations and design, but with text pitched at different levels. Longman's Think Through History series is written in simple language but leads the reader in easy steps towards some fairly sophisticated thinking, and detailed guidance on how to write it up. I loved the chapter heading on Henry VIII: "Chopping and Changing".

James Mason's Modern World History at GCSE from Oxford University Press uses visual aids and diagrammatic presentation to put concepts and themes across in a way which will stick in the pupils' minds.

Teachers doing the Schools History Project GCSE will be interested to learn that John Murray's new volume, Medicine and Health, has already won praise from the Office for Standards in Education for one teacher who made use of it at the right time.

Cambridge University Press publishes a highly regarded key stage 3 series on Irish History in Perspective, which will enrich any treatment of Irish topics in English schools, and a GCSE volume on South Africa 1848-94 which is recommended by some South African examination boards. Nelson's New Nelson History for GCSE combines a strong team of writers with a highly impressive CD-Rom, The Troubled Century, which brings together archive material and decision-making simulations.

There's a similar interactive approach to CD-Rom available from Anglia Multimedia, including a chance to link the package to the Internet. Titles include the Romans and Egyptians for key stage 2, both World Wars and the history of medicine for key stages 3 and 4.

The British Library was giving out free samples of its exciting new CD-Rom, The Making of the United Kingdom. Although aimed at key stage 3, the coverage was clear and thorough enough for one A-level chief examiner looking over my shoulder to comment on how valuable it would be to help sixth formers bridge that dreaded GCSE to A-level gap.

Lastly, I must mention English Heritage's new videos, Talkin' Roman and Talkin' Saxon, the latest additions to one of the most impressive collections of imaginative, cross-curricular resources currently available, ranging from key stage 1 to university level and beyond, via every level of assessment, including GNVQ. Savour them, if you get the chance.

Se n Lang is head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge and honorary secretary of the Historical Association

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