Time passes in a blur

6th February 1998 at 00:00
Then and Now series Sport. By Nigel Smith. Farming. By Katie Roden. Arms and Armour. By Adrian Gilbert. Transport. By Nigel Smith. Franklin Watts Pounds 9.99 each

These books do not live up to their claim to explore the development of their subjects "throughout history".

Each author divides his or her topic into a series of "aspects". Thus, Arms and Armour takes in turn bows and arrows, swords and daggers, armour, and so on. I was unable to discern any principle or order in the selection.

Within each theme, the authors provide descriptions of random facts from different periods of history. In Arms and Armour, the spread on staff weapons comprises three brief passages on clubs, war axes and medieval pikes, with five captions (on prehistoric axes, Hittite hammers, martial arts, Bruce Lee, and police truncheons). Unconnected items are included from all over the world and there is no attempt to explain progression from one development to the next, or to put developments into their historical context. The books assume that the reader already understands a wide range of chronological conventions. A single spread, on crops, for example, includes (in this order): "over thousands of years", "the Mochoca people of Peru" (no date given), "about 9000 BC." "Ancient Egyptian, "over 8,000 years ago," by AD 636", "in 1797", "in 2737 BC", "from AD 350", "today", "during the Middle Ages", "until recently," "in the last few years", and "after the 16th century".

Incomprehensibly, the books contain glossaries, but no time lines. Children are presented with an inchoate mass of chronological information that will confuse all but the most able.

Having said that, the books are colourful, and represent the type of information-rich text which children enjoy. The font size is large, and reading age seems to be about 12. The books offer topics that young people love to read about, but whether they will teach pupils anything about development through time is questionable.

John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield School, Newton Aycliff, Co Durham

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