How green were their valleys?
Catrin Stevens welcomes a much-needed study of Welsh history from medieval times to the First World War. The implementation of the national curriculum History Order for Wales has encouraged history teachers to place greater emphasis on their own national history, against the wider panorama, at key stage 3, of British, European and world history.
This challenging perspective complements the recent academic output of such eminent historians as R Rees Davies, John Davies, Gwyn A Williams and Geraint H Jenkins, whose scholarship provides the firm foundations for those seeking to interpret the history of Wales for different levels of understanding. In England publishers moved quickly to meet the needs of the new curriculum; history teachers in Wales, and particularly those teaching through the medium of Welsh, have had to make do with adaptations, translations and home-made resources.
This is why the Focus on Welsh History series, covering study units l-3 at key stage 3 will be so warmly received in Wales. All three authors draw on a wealth of practical experience and understanding of teaching this age group. Each book is divided into digestible mini-themes, presented through a functional narrative text. The basic content, with carefully-structured vocabulary and short sentences, should not prove too daunting for most readers at this stage.
It is, however, the supporting material which will attract the aspiring student, for the photographs, maps, annotated illustrations, diagrams and snippets of documentary evidence from Welsh and English language primary and secondary sources are all neatly presented. Each page-spread is attractively and colourfully designed. The use of contemporary historians' views, for example, to conclude Mathias's discussion of medieval Wales, will stimulate historical debate and enquiry. Teachers will certainly appreciate the activities and exercises which accompany each theme.
The balance between Welsh and the wider perspective is a controversial issue and this aspect varies from book to book. A wider perspective is not synonymous, as so often assumed, with a purely English one. Hefin Mathias, in his interpretation of the medieval world, achieves a fine balance, though a glimpse at the contemporary scenes in Scotland and Ireland would have enriched the profile further.
After the 1536 Act of Union, the Welsh perspective becomes more difficult to identify. Roger Turvey, in his examination of the early modern period, tends to present the traditional TudorStuart monarch-centred history and about half the page-spreads are not directly relevant to the Welsh experience. On the other hand there are some fascinating documentary extracts, many of them from the Welsh language.
During the 19th-century, Wales's contribution to industrial Britain, through iron, coal and slate, makes it easier for David Evans to identify a Welsh perspective. There are some strange omissions, however: the tithe wars, T E Ellis, the Land Question and the 1904 religious revival, with its international connotations, receive no mention.
Yet the most serious exclusion, in all three books (with the exception of a single page by Turvey) is of references to women, thus perpetuating the myth that women played little part in our history.
History thrives on controversy and key stage 3 pupils will be encouraged, through this excellent series, to discuss and debate such important issues. It is hoped that, at Pounds 6 a book, schools will be able to afford sufficient copies of this invaluable resource.
Catrin Stevens is a lecturer at Trinity College, Carmarthen