Look back in great interest

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Jim McGonigle reviews a new series of secondary level history books which aim to spark debate as well as inform.




Collins Scottish History, pound;4.50 each.

These books are likely to prove popular with many secondary history departments, offering periods of history which will really interest pupils. The titles form part of the Collins Scottish History series and have been written in collaboration with the Higher Still Development Unit to help introduce the new courses, particularly at Intermediate 1 and 2.

For this reason alone, they are to be greatly welcomed. Judging by the level of language and practice exercises set, they are particularly appropriate for Intermediate 2. The books follow a standard survey of what Scotland was like at the time of momentous events.

In Wallace, Bruce and the Scottish Wars of Independence, the crisis in Scottish government following the death of the Maid of Norway and the competition for the throne, with Edward's presence looming over all, are addressed. Two chapters deal with Edward's attempts to control Scotland and the resistance of Wallace and Bruce, and the book ends with the triumph of Robert the Bruce.

Mary Queen of Scots and the Scottish Reformation gives a snapshot of life in mid-16th century Scotland, looking at the problems caused by religion and the struggle for power. Mary's role and the difficulties with the mn in her life are analysed in a couple of chapters, while the last two deal with her later years, the minority of James VI and the Reformation.

Scotland and the Union offers pupils a view of the rivalry between the two countries, the pressures for and the coming of the Union and its aftermath.

Each of the books asks pupils to reflect on the nature of historical evidence, and gives several examples of sources from both sides of the border. In Wallace, Bruce and the Scottish Wars of Independence, for instance, there are maps, drawings and portraits. The chapter on the life of Wallace draws attention to the lack of any contemporary accounts of the man's life and the difficulties of trying to piece it together. This book illustrates beautifully the old adage, "One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist", nowhere better than in the debate on Wallace's perceived heroism or treachery.

Every chapter is summarised in "an overview" where the main points are re-emphasised and reinforced. Another feature is the way the books occasionally ask pupils to "stop and think", as in, "Why might some Scots still support James VII and II?" They can apply skills acquired during the course to put forward their own ideas. The books conclude with a section on how to tackle the "extended response" element of the Intermediate 2 course.

These texts are already popular with many secondary history departments and rightly so.

Jim McGonigle is principal teacher of history at Hermitage Academy and chair of the Scottish Association of History Teachers

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