Julia Zafar welcomes the latest editions of revision guides
Access to History series
Reaction and Revolution: Russia 1894-1924
By Michael Lynch
Boshevik and Stalinist Russia 1918-56
By Michael Lynch
Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-1933
By Geoff Layton
Prosperity, Depression and the New Deal
By Peter Clements
France in Revolution
By Dylan Rees
By Caroline Rogers and Roger Turvey
By Mike Byrne
Hodder Murray pound;7.99 each
The Access to History series continues to be the definitive text for AS and A-level history students. These updated versions claim to build on this success through a new accessible design and format, new features and revised content.
The more spacious design and formatting ingeniously makes more reluctant learners feel they are reading less than they actually are. This is emphasised by a series of tools to make the content more digestible.
The summary diagrams are particularly effective while the key terms cover some difficult concepts, such as new functionalism (Weimar and the Rise of Nazi Germany 1918-1933) and Absolutism (France in Revolution).
Key dates are scattered throughout all the new editions to give students the necessary chronological framework, and key questions effectively lead and link the themes of each chapter while also providing focus. This does little to silence those who criticise the books for oversimplification, but does much to teach difficult material and themes to less able pupils.
With regard to the "revised content to allow pupils to develop their knowledge", these books all deliver the necessary knowledge and do not dumb down in the way that many study guides do. Furthermore, they are all surprisingly strong on historiography, especially when used in conjunction with the Key Debates, which remain the strongest feature of these books.
For example, in Prosperity, Depression and the New Deal, students are asked to look at the "happy face" of 1920s America. There is also a superb section at the end of Henry VII which asks students to consider the conflict between traditional and revisionist interpretations of the monarch.
Extra reading is suggested for those students who want to push themselves further. At times, perhaps, a more synoptic approach would be beneficial.
The range of sources and material is impressive, including political cartoons, oral history and primary texts such as Mein Kampf.
Questions are attached to many of these sources so as to direct less able pupils to a more thorough analysis. This range is reflected in the assessment section, where pupils have to apply their knowledge to questions from the four relevant exam boards (Edexcel, OCR, AQA, WJEC). This is a superb way of familiarising pupils with the unpredictability of exam papers.
These are excellent revision books for a cross-section of students. The historiography and debates stretch the more able, while the accessibility of the content caters for those who struggle. The approach to the topics can be conventional, but a thematic approach is maintained and the range of sources used to supplement content is more than sufficient. The approach breaks history down and perhaps at times falls victim to oversimplification, or not going far enough. However, these books do not claim to be the definitive texts and are designed to be used in conjunction with more in-depth studies. As revision aids, they "cater for students as they are, not as we might wish them to be".
Julia Zafar teaches history at Wolverhampton Grammar School