Time and again

21st April 1995 at 01:00
ACCESS TO HISTORY SERIES Britain: Domestic Politics 1939-64, By Paul Adelman 0 340 59702 X Britain: Foreign and Imperial Affairs 1939-64 By Alan Farmer 0 340 60081 0 The Early Stuarts 1603-1640 By Katherine Brice 0 340 57510 7 Tories, Conservatives and Unionists 1815-1914 By Duncan Watts 0 340 59256 7 Hodder amp; Stoughton #163;5.25 each

SEMINAR STUDIES IN HISTORY SERIES The Church of England 1570-1640 By Andrew Foster 0 582 35574 5. Spain in the Seventeenth Century By Graham Darby 0 582 35379 3. The Inter-War Crisis 1919-1939, By R J Overy 0 582 07234 4. Longman #163;5.25 each

Mark Williamson reviews two series which should help students understand the roots of historical processes

If Oxford is the home of lost causes, Blackpool must be the graveyard of crusades and reputations. Tony Blair, not known as an avid student of labour history, might benefit from a selected reading list for his long train journeys to and from Sedgefield, and Paul Adelman's Britain: Domestic Politics 1939-64 merits a starred entry. And if history does repeat itself, Adelman's detailed and illuminating account of the Clause 4 debate at Blackpool in November 1959 is a cautionary tale.

Gaitskell's arguments are remarkably similar to those used by the present Labour leader: "Standing on its own this clause cannot possibly be regarded as adequate. It lays us open to continual misrepresentation. It implies that the only precise objective we have is nationalisation, whereas we have in fact many other socialist objectives. It implies that we propose to nationalise everything, but do we? Of course not . . . had we not better say so instead of going out of our way to court misrepresentation?" Crosland's analysis was succinct - "We were wrong to go for doctrine; we should have gone for power". Inevitably, given the period under scrutiny, Labour in government and in opposition form the core of this narrative which takes us from the fall of Chamberlain to the election of Wilson in 1964.

The Access to History series is designed for the student, with practical, almost breezy, advice notes - "Read the chapter as fast as you can, and preferably at one sitting". There is a useful introduction which points up the main features of the period and a concluding chapter on the notion of consensus, which addresses with academic precision Pimlott's rejection of the whole idea. Key sources are quoted liberally and each chapter ends with source-based and more general essay questions accompanied by notes to assist students on each topic. The author stops short of providing model answers to standard questions, but coverage of the range of typical questions is thorough and includes clear guidance on approaches. A-level students will find these notes invaluable.

British foreign policy across the same period is comprehensively surveyed in Britain: Foreign and Imperial Affairs 1939-64. Alan Farmer, though not achieving Adelman's clear narrative style, succeeds in integrating analysis and assessment with a high level of detail. Churchill's portrait on the cover reflects his dominance over nearly two-thirds of this period, from his role as war leader to the pragmatism of his last years in office, which saw withdrawal from the Sudan and Suez and even a reduction in defence expenditure.

Churchill's own accounts are drawn on to illustrate Roosevelt's manoeuvres at Tehran and the execution of the blue pencil agreement with Stalin at Moscow which established an equation of influence between the superpowers in the Balkans and elsewhere.

The compression of world history from a British perspective into 160 pages, supporting every event and foray with dates, costs and, frequently, casualty figures, is an achievement. Farmer's assessment of the period may sound complacent but emerges from a critical evaluation of both the positive and negative aspects of Britain's conduct of affairs. He concludes that Britain adjusted reasonably well to the realities of a post-imperial world, achieved national security and was therefore able to pursue prosperity at home.

Diagrams, used by Farmer to help students to approach each topic systematically, are somewhat difficult to follow and are used to better effect in The Early Stuarts 1603-1640, by Katherine Brice, to summarise British society in 1603, the domestic policies of James 1 and foreign policy throughout the period. Brice's sketches of the personalities in a colourful era are vivid but never distorted and her balanced account of the build up to civil war encourages the students to make their own judgements, although the Marxian arguments are looking increasingly threadbare. This is a competent and readable guidebook.

Less colourful, but equally well-presented, is Duncan Watts' study of a century of Toryism from Burke to the First World War, Tories, Conservatives and Unionists 1815-1914. This is an absorbing read which, following Asa Briggs, reinstates Peel as a figure of substance and stature and unmasks the Disraeli of legend. Watts skilfully portrays the enigma of Disraeli, the outsider who achieved "an obvious ascendance over those around him", whose commitment to social legislation, despite his Crystal Palace speech, was hesitant and whose decline after election defeat in 1880 was matched by that of his party.

The titles of these two series denote very different approaches. Hodder amp; Stoughton's use of a clear typeface, bold sub-sections, chronological tables, sources integrated with the text and a short, annotated reading list is undeniably more helpful than Longman's sourcing by means of frequent, bracketed references to appended documents and a lengthy, unannotated bibliography. Stylistically too, the Seminar Studies contrast unfavourably with the Access to History series. Compared with Brice, Andrew Foster's accounts in The Church of England 1570-1640 of Arminianism in England and the Caroline episcopate are turgid, assuming a high degree of commitment and perseverance as well as prior knowledge. The chapter on Church and People is more rewarding, with effective use of primary sources to illustrate the role of the Church courts.

Graham Darby, a teacher, offers greater support to the student in his Spain in the Seventeenth Century. His account of the decline of Habsburg Spain is accompanied by maps, a chronological table and a necessary glossary of terms. The role and legacy of Olivares, who not only failed but "failed on a monumental scale" are deservedly the subjects of detailed attention. Students will find Darby's final chapter, in which he takes issue with the controversial article by Henry Kamen, "Decline of Spain: A Historical Myth" (1978), a fruitful source of both essay and debating material.

Of the three Longman titles only R J Overy's The Inter-War Crisis 1919-1939 could be said to meet the editor's aim that this material for the advanced student should also be "enjoyable and interesting to read". While acknowledging that there is no neat chronology of crisis, Overy charts the events linking Eliot's "broken images" of 1922 and Gascoyne's epitaph on the Grim Thirties - "And so! the long black pullman is at last departing, now". This concentrated study of the collapse of the world economy and the industrial order prompts the inevitable question - Could the factors that caused state terror and moral depravity again coincide? If Overy is right and Fukuyama is wrong, there is much history yet to be written.

Mark Williamson is General Adviser for Humanities and Religious Education in the London Borough of Hounslow.

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