Elements of the modern era

6th September 1996 at 01:00
MAKING HISTORY: WORLD HISTORY FROM 1914 TO THE PRESENT. By Christopher Culpin. Collins Pounds 10.95 OUR WORLD THIS CENTURY. By Derek Heater. Oxford University Press, Pounds 9.

MODERN WORLD HISTORY By Tony McAleavy. Cambridge University Press, Pounds 8.95 GCSE MODERN WORLD HISTORY. By Ben Walsh. John Murray History in Focus series Pounds 11.99

Mark Williamson on contrasting approaches to the 20th century.

These four books are intended to support the teaching of the core content of a Modern World History syllabus, although there are, inevitably, different policies on the selection of content.

The Spanish Civil War is distilled by Christopher Culpin and explained in more detail by Derek Heater, who gives reasons why the war was internationally important. Ben Walsh briefly mentions Spain in the context of the causes of the Second World War on the grounds that Hitler saw the civil war both as an opportunity to fight against communism and to try out his new armed forces. Tony McAleavy gives it only the briefest of mentions in connection with the discrediting of the League of Nations.

McCarthyism is covered fully by Walsh with photographs of the House Un-American Activities Committee in session and of a film star's protest; Heater includes a photograph of the senator and Culpin a substantial sub-section without illustration. McAleavy bypasses McCarthy, but alone devotes a separate chapter to Tito and, like Heater, recognises the importance of the U-2 incident and the resulting cancellation of the Paris conference on Berlin.

Christopher Culpin's new edition of Making History combines a methodical and strictly chronological approach to the period covering the two world wars with an almost encyclopaedic thoroughness in other areas. Two chapters are devoted to China from Sun Yatsen to the death of Mao and one to India and Pakistan. The chapter on Africa is an example of succinctness and clarity with the help of good maps showing how imperialism ignored tribal boundaries; the different approaches of the British, French and Belgians to colonial rule are well explained and a country-by-country guide to the key events and issues helps to paint the fullest of pictures with greater attention paid to the situation in South Africa - "unlike any other in Africa".

Culpin's approach to assessment is unsurprisingly rigorous with mainly source-based questions following each sub-section and end-of-chapter examination-type questions requiring description, explanation and analysis and the ability to handle and interpret evidence. Topics for discussion are added to some chapters.

The construction of this book makes it easy to use and Culpin's writing style enables him to communicate effortlessly. The larger font used for written sources is as effective as their placing in the narrative in which they frequently occur as part of a continuum: "On 6th August Colonel Tibbetts pi-loted his bomber, the 'Enola Gay', to Hiroshima, a Japanese city in the south-west of the main island and dropped a single atomic bomb. Suddenly a searing pinkish light appeared in the sky accompanied by an unnatural tremor . . . (A Japanese journalist)". The misspelling of Lyndon Johnson's name in the table of contents is unfortunate in this authoritative and invitingly written text.

Heater's Our World this Century appears by popular demand as a revised impression having been reprinted no less than six times between 1988 and 1993. The basic text was completed in 1980 with this revision incorporating some minor amendments and a postscript - "A dramatic decade" covering the period 1985-95.

Like Culpin, Heater writes in short sentences and an easy style which should meet the needs of a wide ability range. Although there is no glossary, most technical terms are clearly explained and much information - such as the key agreements on arms control and on the dependence of the West for much of the post-war period on the oil-producing countries of the Middle East - is presented in study guide form using numbered points, which makes this quite an effective revision text.

A review of the questions which are placed at the end of each chapter in the light of the new assessment regime would improve future editions and, although the black and white photographs and cartoons serve their purpose, the use of colour would make any of the maps, such as the war in the Far East and Western European economic co-operation, more intelligible. Teachers may wish to ensure that at least one copy of Heater is available as a familiar friend and an ever-present help in trouble.

McAleavy's entirely new title is a fresh approach to textbook writing for key stage 4 using some of the techniques that have proved successful in key stage 3 based on key enquiry questions: Did the agreements of the 1920s make the world a safer place? What happened at Munich? How successful was the United States in the Korean War? Briefings precede a series of "investigations" which are actively led and source driven. Double-page reviews consolidate knowledge and understanding acquired through the investigative work.

Imaginative design and full colour help to make this a lively, student-friendly text, the colour photography adding value not just to sources such as the Nuremberg rallies and the devastation of Stalingrad, but also to the many portraits of key figures which embellish the story.

On content, what you see is what you get: international relations are examined through the key topics - the 1919-23 peace treaties, the League of Nations, the Second World War and the Cold War, the containment of Communism (Mc-Aleavy is right to highlight Kennan's "long telegram" of 1946) and the maintenance and end of Soviet control in Eastern Europe. This is a new genre in textbook publishing which could prove popular.

The most extensive book of the four is also the most substantial running to more than 300 pages. Walsh focuses on Europe and the United States although a 20-page chapter on China in the section International Relations 1945-1990 extends the student's awareness of the forms of Communism and provides adequate material for a depth of study. Topics such as prohibition, women in the 1920s, the Abyssinian invasion and the Berlin blockade, which may be passing references in other titles, are the subject of detailed examination. Sources, including some lengthy written ones, are extensive and perhaps, for many students, overwhelming, although visual material of every kind is abundant.

One of the strengths of this title is the use of well-executed coloured diagrams, charts and maps which, together with tables and graphs, assist both the presentation and the interpretation of data. Boxed "factfiles" summarise essential points and questions, many of which could be used to direct oral work in the lesson or could be combined with "activities" and "focus tasks" to offer a wide range of assessment opportunities.

The depth of treatment and sheer weight of evidence make this title suitable for the able student who is interested in the period and can work independently. A teacher's resource book is also available.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for Humanities and religious education in the London Borough of Hounslow.

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