Making History

This may sound like a crass generalisation, but sod it: school history students do Hitler and Stalin to death but very seldom anything outside Europe and America. They are taught essentially a random selection of modules devoid of any underlying purpose. Mine would be simple: to give students, within the obvious time constraints, the best possible understanding of the world today.
Whilst it’s easy to see the merits of schools teaching different subjects depending on where their teachers’ specialities lie, this is ripe for abuse. If teachers are adept at teaching Hitler and Stalin, why make them bother with anything else? I know of students who studied the dictators in year 9, then for GCSEs and at A-level. Students and schools are happy – by cutting corners, better grades are obtained, and whocares about the historical understanding?

The government, led by Niall Ferguson, are currently in the process of redesigning the History syllabus. Whatever you think about Ferguson – an uber right wing arch-apologist of empire to many – the curriculum does need fundamental altering. Given the time limits, it is essential to make what is taught as engaging as possible. The only British history I was taught from year 9 onwards was the minutiae of the Pitt and Liverpool administrations around the turn of the 19th century. This hasn’t given me a broader perspective on anything.

What is necessary is for a curriculum that, whilst retaining some flexibility, makes it impossible for students to learn the same material endlessly. It must give them some genuine understanding of the world, and focus more on the macro than micro. This means dumping Pitt, and preventing Hitler and Stalin, though important, from being taught ad infinitum. From the start of secondary school, students have up to 15 terms worth of history study – and you can teach a wide range of material in that. Before falling foul to my own time constraints, here are five papers that would be fascinating, relevant and broad, yet are very rarely taught currently: the Crusades; the Latin American conquest in the 16th century; empire building and decolonisation in Africa; partition and development in India and Pakistan; and the Arab-Israeli conflict.