Recipes for Medieval Day

16th December 1994 at 00:00
Family Life series, Roman Britain By Peter Crisp, 0 7502 1005 2. Saxon Britain, By Peter Hicks. 0 7502 1006 0. Medieval Britain, By Tessa Hosking. 0 7502 1006 0. The Second World War, By Nigel Smith. 0 7502 1221 7, Wayland Pounds 8.50 each

These authors all have experience of history in education. They have created simple, exciting reference books, each 30 pages long, with an index and glossary. Well-produced photographs of a range of carefully selected sources encourage children to ask their own questions about the aspects of everyday life in other times. These could inform their reconstructions of the past in stories, models or drama. Beguiling pictures of Roman pots overflowing with grapes, honey, mushrooms and snails suggest Sunday supplement cookery pull-outs. By contrast the picture of Saxon excrement, one-thousand years old, has a compelling fascination, which could inspire inferential thinking about the effects on the Saxon stomach of whipworm and maw worm referred to in the text.

The different strands of historical enquiry are not laboured, but they are implicit. There is a range of sources. Selected writings are bold and inviting to read: "Shelterer's Bedding. The practice of shaking bedding over the platforms tracks and in the subways is strictly forbidden." There are statues and buildings and pictures from manuscripts, together with artists' drawings and reconstructions of sites. A welcome and unpatronising distinction is made in the text between what we know and how, and what is probable ("we believe", "we think"), with a nice distinction between levels of probability; "we are not sure", "this Roman woman may have used hot curling tongs or it may be a wig".

Changes within a period are traced; Alfred's defensive burghs became trading posts, then towns. Questions which have no definitive answers are explored; why did the Saxons come to Britain? There is a range of perspectives, from town and country, and from different social positions; some Mediaeval people had cockintryce, two halves of different birds sewn together and stuffed, while most had pease pudding. (Which will you be preparing for Medieval Day?) Women's role and status in each society is analysed and explained, through interpreting sources. Girdle-hangers (mock keys) and morgengifu (gifts to a bride, of large sums of money and land) endorse records which show many Saxon woman were powerful and independent.Women in the 1940s are shown in the forces and factories, on the land and driving buses. Images of children, playing knights with a wooden horse for example, suggest that neither Rousseau nor Arrieres invented childhood.

These books are a most welcome addition to national curriculum history schemes.

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