Evidence needs to be sifted

20th June 1997 at 01:00
Longman Advanced HistoryModern Europe 1870-1945.By Christopher Culpin and Ruth + HenigThe Birth of Modern Britain 1780-1914By Eric Evans Contemporary Britain + 1914-1979By Robert PearceLongman, #163;13.99 each.Good A-level teaching is as + much about construction as commitment. A foundation of study skills needs to be+ securely laid; a programme of study needs to be designed taking into account + the different stages of the project; scaffolding should be in place to support + the students in their work whether it be use of sources, essay writing or note + taking.Longman Advanced History offers students texts written for the specific + purpose of preparing for examinations using the revised assessment criteria and+ based on the new subject core. Unlike many texts for this level of work, where+ the principal aim is to provide as comprehensive a treatment as possible, + these titles are the fruits of a rigorous policy of selection and + interpretation. Each chapter has a particular focus - causation, change and + continuity, similarity and difference, historiography or simply key features. + In Modern Europe the focus for "Germany 1890-1914" is the role of an individual+ (Wilhelm II); in "Poverty and the New Poor Law" (The Birth of Modern Britain) + the focus is the evaluation of evidence which is plentiful but conflicting. At + no point is "the need to know" subjugated to other aims and the short but + carefully annotated reading lists which accompany each chapter invite the + student to read more deeply and consider other viewpoints. An indication of the+ attention to detail by the series editors is that even the order in which the + additional reading appears is significant and fully explained.Study aids are + found throughout. Most chapters open with a time chart and key figures who are + not the subject of a main chapter are given special profiles. Almost all + chapters provide not only specimen examination questions, but also hints and + tips on tackling them. The profiles and key terms are listed alongside the main+ index where Bill Haley rubs shoulders with Lord Halifax and proves that an + enquiry-centred approach need not result in sacrifice of coverage.Each book is + organised within a broadly chronological framework. In Modern Europe 1870-1945,+ the authors identify six themes which are intended to help the student + understand the complex mosaic of changes in what was the world's most powerful + and developed continent. The two titles on British history group the + self-contained chapters according to the key characteristics of the period, for+ example "Warfare and Welfare 1939-56". No effort has been spared to help the + student come to terms with the range and volume of information; even the + contents pages are noteworthy, describing both focus and task.Many of the + titles listed as further reading are drawn on for secondary sources. Some, + such as Corelli Barnett's The Audit of War, which described Britain's wartime + economy as "fat", "flabby" and "deeply conservative" are considered + sufficiently important in their own right to warrant a summary. Barnett's view + that Britain was "as dependent on American strength as a patient on a + life-support machine" is not matched by a contrasting assessment, although + Pearce does mention some counter evidence. Students are encouraged to work with+ strong judgments and arguable opinions - "Fascism offered comradeship and + excitement in a dull and ungrateful postwar world; for the more politically + conscious it represented a continuation of the war in peacetime" (Martin + Blinkhorn). The source-based enquiries are, in the main, substantial and + demanding, particularly Culpin and Henig's exercise on the French politician + Gambetta and the nature of republicanism, and Evans's nine sources on Chartism.+ In contrast, Pearce's two cartoons on Baldwin seem a modest evidence base for + an evaluation on someone Arthur Bryant described as "a politician who was + scarcely a politician at all". The loosely written introduction to the chapter + on Northern Ireland in Contemporary Britain which refers to "sporadic" violence+ after 1976, the "signing" of a "truce" in August 1994 and the start of + "settlement talks" on the basis of an "all-Ireland policy" is a rare exception + to the precision and accuracy of the text. These are well-crafted volumes that + meet the needs of students and teachers. They reflect the standards expected at+ this level.Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and religious + education in the London borough of Hounslow

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