Who's it all for?;Reviews;HistoryScience;Secondary;Books

9th April 1999 at 01:00

CAMBRIDGE PERSPECTIVES IN HISTORY SERIES. Cambridge University Press pound;6.95 each. PATHFINDER HISTORY. Stanley Thornes pound;6 each. ACCESS TO HISTORY SERIES. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;6.75

Is there a difference between an A level-student and a university undergraduate? As the numbers in each sector keep rising the question becomes harder to answer, but it needs to be addressed, because publishers are continuing to produce material that tends to blur the distinction. UCL Press's useful topic books, The Wars of the Roses by Bruce Webster and Women in Early Modern England by Jacqueline Eales, with their distinctive day-glo covers, are well written and authoritative treatments of their subjects. However, the whole tenor of the books, including their impressively full bibliographies, suggests undergraduate history rather than A-level, though they will certainly help those noble history teachers who do keep medieval and early modern history going.

The Cambridge Perspectives in History series seems confused as to its intended audience. Where the author is a university academic, as with Nationalism in Europe 1789-1945 by Timothy Baycroft, British Imperialism by Simon C Smith and The Origins of the First and Second World Wars by Frank McDonough, the tone and style are clearly better suited to university students. Where the author is a teacher there is more of an attempt to gauge the realities of A-level readership.

No teacher would really ask, as British Imperialism does, "Using all the sources, offer an explanation for the American Revolution". The thematic approach of Revolutions 1789-1917 by Allan Todd is initially attractive: there are sections on violence, women in revolution, revolutions that spread across borders and so on; however, this strictly thematic approach means that the coverage of any one revolution gets patchy.

Nationalism in Europe attempts comprehensive coverage but ends up rather rambling, curiously omitting nationalism in cultural areas such as opera and music, and Democracy and the State 1830-1945 by Michael Willis is an enjoyable meander through a variety of themes, including parliamentary reform and the welfare state but needs a much clearer overall rationale.

The series is much more at home with more discrete topics, such as the very useful survey of Papists, Protestants and Puritans 1559-1714 by Diana Newton and it is particularly strong in its coverage of historiography. Ambitious A-level students will leap on Frank McDonough's lucid survey of the heated debates over responsibility for the two world wars and Richard Brown's comprehensive outline of the developing debate in Chartism. But the books give relatively few extracts from the historians they refer to and the questions are disappointing.

Pathfinder History is an impressive arrival on the A-level market. The slim volumes on Napoleon and Europe by Philip Ingram and Hitler and the Third Reich by Richard Harvey provide overviews, outlines of issues, exam techniques, advice on essay writing and useful documentary exercises.

Hodder's Access to History series is a familiar friend to A-level students. Britain and the European Powers 1815-65 by Michael Byrne, and the two new depth studies, Votes for Women 1860-1928 by Paula Bartley and Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust by Alan Farmer, are as detailed and well written as we have come to expect, though Votes for Women is heavily slanted towards the Suffragettes, offering essentially an apologia for their controversial methods.

Alan Farmer's treatment of the Holocaust is very strong on the different historical theories, and includes some remarkable photographs taken illicitly inside the Warsaw ghetto.

Sean Lang is head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge.

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