When silence is terrifying

6th September 1996 at 01:00
KEY HISTORY FOR GCSE SERIES RUSSIA AND THE USSR 1900-95. By Richard Radway Stanley Thornes Pounds 6.50.

LONGMAN HISTORY PROJECT Germany 1918-45 By Josh Brooman. Longman Pounds 7.99. SCHOOLS HISTORY PROJECT COPYMASTER PACK FOR GCSE SYLLABUSES By Fiona Brathwaite Longman Pounds 32 + VAT.


Good history teachers are instinctive opportunists and this year's Russian elections will have been fully exploited to consolidate understanding of the key issues and questions embedded in the period between the revolutions of 1917 and 1989. Richard Radway's opening chapter in Russia and the USSR 1900-95 sums up the period visually by juxtaposing the toppling of a statue of the Tsar and one of Dzerzhinsky, head of Lenin's secret police.

The coverage is inexplicably unbalanced with four-fifths of the book devoted to the period from tsarist rule to the end of the Second World War, leaving only 20 pages for the Cold War and the world changing events post-Brezhnev. The Twentieth Party Congress of 1956 requires more than a brief summary and the effects of the invasion of Hungary in the same year are not really examined in a section the sub-heading of which stands alone on the opposite page.

The glasnost age is more adequately covered with an important section on market reforms and a useful one on Chechenia. Radway's account of the way in which Gorbachev loosened the grip of the Brezhnev doctrine, allowing the democratisation of Eastern Europe, includes Jaruzelski's telling remark - "Sometimes the silence of the telephone is terrifying."

There are some real strengths in this textbook. The detailed and balanced treatment of Stalin provides raw material for serious work on interpretation and evaluation. Tasks are truly differentiated and range from simple source-based investigations to challenging questions on the historian's problems in building up an accurate picture of collectivisation and on whether industrialisation represented change or progress.

Josh Brooman's Germany 1918-45 is one of the first titles to be published by the Longman History Project which claims to offer new materials and new sources for the new GCSE syllabuses; this title would be suitable for both a Modern World syllabus and a depth study.

Brooman is right to emphasise the political consequences for Germany of the First World War and in particular the experiment in democracy following the abdication of the Kaiser; the Spartacist rising and the putsches of 1919-23 are described in detail and provide a foundation for understanding the appeal of communism and, later, National Socialism.

Contemporary evidence in the form of newspapers, letters and diaries contribute to a scholarly chronicle of events with an impressive bank of questions which invite students to scrutinise, consider and evaluate. This is a genuinely fresh approach to source-based history in which Richard Spitz's absurd painting of a stormtrooper collapsing in ecstasy on seeing the Nazi vision is placed alongside less familiar accounts of the sterilisation programme, examples of the Nazification of prayers and photographs confirming the unlimited humiliation which could be meted out to Aryan women with Jewish partners.

Brooman's account of the extermination policy is measured and factual; the decisions at the Wannsee Conference and the numbers are left to speak for themselves. Concluding sections cover the important and sometimes neglected subjects of internal opposition and denazification. This is a substantial resource which will challenge the more able and stretch the average.

The two copymaster packs are designed for use alongside the Longman History Project texts. These offer a wide range of access and information retrieval tasks, each contributing to a GCSE assessment objective. Each syllabus is well supported with 16 activities for Germany 1918-45 (Modern World History) and 18 for the same subject in the Schools History Project.

These materials - with their emphasis on key words, cause and consequence and the reinforcement of essential knowledge and understanding - are invaluable. But they could be improved by reducing the cutting and pasting and crossword completion exercises and increasing the activities which help students to organise information and construct explanations in paragraphed essays. The speech bubble activity on de Klerk's reforms (Modern World History) and the essay plan, "How the farmers tamed the Plains" (SHP) are sound examples but more innovative and imaginative approaches are urgently required.

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

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