Routes to the present

5th September 1997 at 01:00
HISTORY IN FOCUS SERIES BRITISH SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC HISTORY. By Ben Walsh. John Murray Pounds 11.99

Writers of textbooks on 19th-century social and economic history have to manage a huge volume of evidence and present enough of it without losing or confusing the student. Ben Walsh avoids this danger by providing a broad highway of topic groupings - even colour-coding them for ease of reference.

Agriculture sits alongside textiles; poverty with the trade unions and working class movements, while medicine and the changing role of women are linked by a question - An Age of Progress? It would have been helpful to have the sub-section of each topic on the contents page so students could refer more easily to a specific aspect.

Enquiry questions guide the student through each large and complex subject. This approach is nowhere better employed than in relation to the key issue of poverty from 1815 to 1990. The student is led step by step from the old Poor Law to Beveridge, with a postscript on Thatcherite self-reliance. Intermediate sections on the workhouse, Victorian campaigners, the Liberal governments and poverty in the Twenties and Thirties are supported by extensive evidence.

"Focus tasks" play an important role in this series, not only for summative assessment but also to help the student interact with the information and develop investigative and evaluative skills.

In the sub-section on factory reform, the student is invited to note what was achieved at each stage from the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act to the 1850 act, which increased permissible hours but within set limits. Students have to assess the importance of each reform. At the end of the section they have to explain why conditions in the textile industry had improved by 1850, gather evidence to support a range of viewpoints and make a judgment on its reliability.

A chronological chart shows how social and economic themes overlap and interconnect, and a double-page spread summarises changes in agriculture, textiles, iron, coal and transport. Less useful is the single-page glossary, meagre for a text of more than 350 pages.

This is a well-written, professionally constructed and attractive text that should particularly benefit those with potential to achieve higher grades. It is designed for a purpose and it succeeds.

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