Slaving over the details

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Heinemann History Depth Studies. Chartism, By Bob Rees. Life and Work in 19th Century Britain, By Rachel Hamer. Britain and the Slave Trade, By Rosemary Rees. Hitler and National Socialism, By Martyn Whittock. The Russian Revolution, By Susan Willoughby. The Western Front, By Rosemary Rees, Pupils' book Pounds 3.50 and Pounds 3.99 each. Resource Pack Pounds 9.99 each, Age range 11 - 14

Pupils need help to cover 200 years of history in two terms, says Mark Williamson. Two hundred years may separate the enclosure system and the welfare state; but in the real time of key stage 3 history teaching the journey is made in just two terms. The requirement of at least one depth study is an opportunity for pupils to apply skills of enquiry and interpretation to an event or aspect which makes an essential contribution to our understanding of the character and importance of a period.

The simultaneous publication of all six Heinemann History Depth Studies is a bonus. Departments can discuss the relative merits of each study alongside an examination of actual learning materials, taking into account links with GCSE content, the needs and interests of pupils, and the relevance of each topic to what is fast becoming a de-historicised generation.

The structure of each book around five, six or seven enquiry questions enables the teacher to get to the heart of the matter through broad and basic questions: "What did the Chartists want? Who were the Chartists? Did the Chartists fail?" In each case the final question is an evaluative one.

In Life and Work in 19th Century Britain, they are asked to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves whether Britain was really a better place in 1900 than 1750. In Hitler and National Socialism, Martyn Whittock puts the question "What was Hitler's impact on history?" These concluding chapters help to communicate the message that with history things are never cut and dried; there are always judgements to make and pupils' views are to be taken seriously.

In Britain and the Slave Trade, a poser emerged during the process of publication. Heinemann had unearthed a painting by a British naval officer of "slaves below deck" in 1818. But the slave trade was supposed to have ended in 1807. More evidence is presented from ships' logs and newspapers. Pupils are encouraged to find their own solutions.

In spite of a slim appearance - three of the titles are only 30 pages long - none are lightweight on sources. The demands of the Chartists are illustrated not only by the Six Points but also by extracts from contemporary writings.

Susan Willoughby draws on 15 sources to invite the pupil to solve one of history's more recent mysteries - the fate of the Russian Royal Family in 1918. "Think it Through" boxes reinforce the importance of scrutinising evidence carefully and critically, although the note to teachers that these are intended to stimulate reflection by pupils working on their own is somewhat unrealistic; these questions would more usefully serve as a starting point for class discussion.

Compression with clarity is not easily achieved, but with this series the few criticisms become cavils. Chartism, which begins with a commendably uncluttered short survey of working conditions and protest from the early 19th century to the Six Acts, unnecessarily duplicates material on The Third Petition which appears in units 4 and 5. The uncompromising total immersion into The Western Front presupposes a degree of prior knowledge, and the Schlieffen Plan will need to be taught as well as read, particularly as it is not well illustrated by the map.

The "Marxist Volcano" in The Russian Revolution, which purports to show Marx's ideas for revolution, is more a warning to illustrators that the application of a model from one discipline to explain a concept in another does not always succeed. However, the same title also includes a flawless plan of Petrograd showing the events of October 1917. The overall standard of maps and diagrams in this series is good.

Each pupil's book offers questions which can be answered independently within a lesson and activities which are mainly designed for unit-by-unit assessment. Teachers are well supported by the aptly described Resource Packs which contain detailed notes on each unit with photocopiable worksheets for the less able and resource sheets for the more able. Given the requirements of the revised Order and the inherent importance of the topics in this series, the pricing is realistic. Inspection can be recommended.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and RE in the London Borough of Hounslow

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