One foot in the past;Reviews;Books
History and geography seen from different perspectives History is everything that has happened to anybody, anywhere, at any time. It is vast, so the process of writing history has to be about selection. Robert Hull does this well for younger readers, giving a good overview of topics while balancing general points against the specific examples. These books are sprinkled with the details that make history so fascinating - for instance, that soap was a Celtic invention and that the River Thames became so full of sewage in 1858 that paddle-steamers could hardly move in it.
Hull is a teacher, and the books are appropriate for the work pupils will do - they are general surveys suitable for library work in junior schools.
Each is written around a string of questions, such as, "How did the Romans transform Britain?" "What religious beliefs did the Vikings have?" and "What do we know about Tudor life?" Earlier books start with: "Who were they?" The Tudors and The Victorians begin with the question: "How do we know about them?" Each book ends by examining the legacy left to us and how ideas and achievements of past generations still affect us. There is an emphasis on concrete facts - places to go, things that have been discovered - but the reading level is quite high, especially in The Tudors and The Victorians.
Hull quotes Cicero and Viking poetry, and explains how the English language is descended from Anglo-Saxon: "he ne gehyrde butan hlimmam sae" - "he heard nothing but the slam of the sea".
John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield comprehensive, County Durham