Friday, 20 August 2010

Glynn’s Compelling Case For History

‘Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain a child.’ Cicero.

One half of our review team on The Writing Game (see sidebar here) is Glynn, teacher of history for over thirty years, now a trainer of teachers at Durham University and Senior Examiner of A level History for the EdExcel board.

A bit of a renaissance man, Glyn reviews all kinds of books for the programme. For relaxation, he reads crime. However the theme for the the September programme is History - Fact and Fiction so we were right in his territory. Wonderfully, Terry Deary had agreed to be interviewed for this show, talking about his WW2 novel PUT OUT THE LIGHT, and of course his anarchic, very best selling ‘Horrible History’ series.

So Glynn’s review brief for September was Historical Fact. I asked him to review great history books now available. So he came to my smallest room - which is now giving service as a studio – to record his segment. However, before he gave his book recommendations, I asked him for his view on history and its teaching in schools. Glynn’s combination of vision, scholarship and enduring ideals inspired me to include an excerpt from his talk here.


I thought you’d be interested in Glynn’s compelling case for history:

Glynn ‘ ….(learning history) allows children to see the present, it transforms the world about them and it gives them more of a sense of identity than they had without it – a sense of national identity. regional identity, in fact local identity as well. It shows them what man has done and therefore what they are capable of doing, whatever they want to become. And it tells them an awful lot about themselves

‘Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain a child.’ I go along with Cicero on that.

History helps to de-centre them, to show they’re not the centre of the universe. It promotes critical thinking, tells them to weigh evidence, to look at the pros and cons, to make judgements based on evidence … Also it should be a good read. History is a literary subject; good history is well written, it’s exciting stories that can fire the imagination.

How it should be taught? Children learn in a variety of ways and should be taught in a variety of ways There’s certainly a central role within that for a a teacher – a teacher, not a facilitator. The teacher should be the centre of the classroom: stories such as the great fire of London, the Gunpowder Plot again fire the imagination.

Children learn by doing, so things like role play, playing the role of the detective, examining evidence , artefacts, paintings, building, photographs – all these and written evidence at its highest helps them to make judgements.

In the big debate about knowledge and skills, I suppose I’m on the knowledge side . They should leave school with a body of knowledge which helps them to do the things that I have outlined. To apply critical thinking to their actions and attitudes. Armed with this they can look at cause, consequence and change in their own wider experience . …

Wendy: The teacher as the great storyteller as well as the purveyor of knowledge, judgement and experience. That all sounds to me like history should be at the centre of the curriculum,

Glynn: Indeed it should be. Everything has its history, its historical link. It could be seen as the most important…

Wendy: I’ll vote put it at the centre of the curriculum.

Glynn: (laughs) Thank you Wendy

Wendy: So what about your books this month…?

Glynn: Well, never have so many works of history or of such quality been produced than at present, nor has history been so well taught. According to OFSTED it’s the best taught subject on the secondary school curriculum – a far cry from the state of history on which Terry Deary took revenge by producing his Horrible Histories .

I even venture to say that never has (a populariser) like Terry been more important then at the present. History as a subject has suffered terribly at the hands of the outgoing Labour Government to the point where it’s marginalised in many schools, subsumed within general humanities courses ( so the critical discipline is lost. W.) and even discontinued as a GCSE option.

Remarkably in the whole of Europe, only in Britain and Albania is History not a compulsory subject for 14-16year olds … Had there been more historians in the Labour government then (the study of history) would not be in such a parlous state, nor might Britain have such a dubious foreign policy reputation as it has in the world in the moment.

Wendy: (Taking a breath…) And so the the books?

Glynn’s Choice:

I offer then, some BIG history books which I’ve enjoyed reading in the last year and which continue Terry’s and Wendy’s theme of wars in the 20th Century.

THE STORM OF WAR by Andrew Roberts – a well researched narrative history of the Second World War

THE WAR OF THE WORLD, Niall Ferguson’s radical re-interpretation of both Twentieth Century world wars. Like all my books here this book is beautifully written and combines broad brushstrokes of judgement with fascinating detail and anecdote .

HUGH TREVOR ROPER, Adam Sisman’s biography of the historian, son of an Alnwick GP who rose to be England’s top historian, As a young don and army historian Trevor Roper’s detective work produced The Last Days of Hitler which proved that Hitler had indeed died in the bunker and made the historian’s name. He was involved as a writer, scholar an consultant to so many events of the latter twentieth century. (Glyn goes on to outline how the book revealed critical flaws, tragedy and even farce which compromised but did not destroy the genius of this iconic historian.)


Glynn said so much more about these books. but to hear him you will have to wait until after 7pm on September 7th if you are in the area or get the podcast from Bishop FM afterwards. (Earlier Podcasts are there too)

Of course you will also get to hear Terry Deary which is another treat. I’ll put a post on the blog her about Terry and his contribution nearer the time.

It was great to listen to Glynn. I’m certainly inspired to read all of these books , but will make a start with the Nial Ferguson’s War Of The World …


  1. Here's one, quite tame, view of hisTORy moi done did & it's now @ YouTube

    Stay on groovin' safari,

  2. Dear Tor
    Thank's for visiting. Loved your unique blog and your special language

  3. I so agree about history WEndy - it is so important. And it's the source of all the stories ....... feminists would argue of all His stories, so what about herstory! That really struck a chord with me in the seventies - history did seem to be all about what men did. I think the balance is so much better now and we know much more about what ordinary people did, not just the lives of kings and emperors. Look forward to hearing the podcast.

  4. I can't wait.
    I would absolutely agree about the importance of teaching history. History is treated as a third-rate discipline in Oz these days - it's a disastrous state of affairs.

  5. Terry and Glynn are both fascinating on this programme - for me Glynn is undoubtedly the treat and as you say he makes a 'compelling' and passionate case for History.

    Listeners are in for a treat

    Avril x



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