Leave UK history curriculum alone but teach it for longer, says U.S. historian
Towards the end of a typically barnstorming performance at the Hay Festival in May last year, during which Niall Ferguson had rubbished the way history was taught in this country, the spotlight was turned towards the audience to reveal that the new education secretary, Michael Gove, had snuck into the event and was sitting somewhere near the back. And after a few not entirely convincing exchanges of surprise along the lines of "Fancy seeing you here!", "You're marvellous", "No, you're marvellous", Gove offered Ferguson a job on the spot to help reform the history curriculum....
Wisely, perhaps, Gove chose to consult not just Ferguson. Instead, using the contacts book that mysteriously opens up for new ministers, he also invited several other well-known historians, including Simon Schama and Richard Evans, to contribute their suggestions for the wholesale reform of history teaching. Somewhere not far into the process, he also asked David Cannadine, Dodge Professor of History at Princeton – and, with Ferguson and Schama, yet another of the UK's top academic exports to the US – for his thoughts. Eighteen months down the line, Gove might rather be wishing he hadn't.
Like Gove and Ferguson, Cannadine has also taken a profound interest in how history is taught in state schools; unlike them, he didn't think that relying on hearsay and ideology was the best way to decide public policy. "There had been a great many theories about how history had been taught over time," Cannadine says, "but no one had done any detailed research to provide the evidence to back them up." So about two and a half years ago Cannadine, along with two research fellows, Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, funded by the Linbury Trust and the Institute of Historical Research, set out to find the empirical data, and this week their findings are published in The Right Kind of History....
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