History brought to life

7th November 1997 at 00:00
WALES AND BRITAIN 1906-1951. By Roger Turvey. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 7.99.

In the formidable struggle to capture the imagination and retain the interest of bored students of history at GCSE, an attractive and accessible textbook can be an invaluable ally. In this respect Wales and Britain 1906-1951, published with the financial support of the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales (and available also in a Welsh-language edition), should prove a most welcome addition to the Welsh Joint Education Committee's GCSE history armoury.

It has all the attributes of the best history textbooks for this key stage: a sound academic text; an excellent variety of illustrations; and an exciting mix of familiar and unfamiliar primary and secondary sources, colour-coded, to stimulate debate and enquiry.

Each unit is introduced by a pertinent key question, which is revisited in the exercises at the end of the unit. These test all the pupils' understanding of the key issues, but also challenge the abler students to enquire in greater depth. The blend of British and Welsh history is most satisfactory, especially in the earlier period when the pre-eminence of Lloyd George and the economic dominance of "King Coal" placed Wales at the forefront of British, if not world, history. The focus sections allow specific subjects, such as the 1926 General Strike, to be examined in detail; and the profile pages, with the likes of Winston Churchill and Aneurin Bevan, highlight the dominant themes of each unit.

I was particularly impressed by the author's ability to explain difficult terms, such as propaganda, censorship and democracy, in a lucid way. Indeed, Turvey's knowledge and experience as a secondary-school teacher, an established author of key stage 3 textbooks and an academic historian, with a recent well-received monograph on the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth (1132-97), is illustrated throughout this volume.

Inevitably, there are minor reservations. In the light of recent research, I would question the assertions that Wales produced no major war poets or that women's suffrage made little impact there. Also, the decision to highlight one Welsh Nationalist's pro-Mussolini stance under the heading "Fascism and the British People", although accurate, is misplaced, for it taints the party itself by association and fails to recognise that many other leaders, including Lloyd George, succumbed to the charms of Hitler and Mussolini.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, such controversies, Wales and Britain 1906-1951 is a successful and lively textbook. It looks good and will be fun to use, and may well serve not only to stimulate interest at GCSE but also to inspire students to continue their historical studies at A-level.

Catrin Stevens is head of history, Trinity College, Carmarthen

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