What did you read this summer?

In this year’s March issue of Teaching History, Helen Snelson wrote in the Secondary Committee pages about making a ‘connecting with historical scholarship’ resolution. Richard Kerridge has picked up this theme in his blog about his summer reading…

Like most history teachers, and teachers of other subjects, I read a lot. I guess
mainly it’s to increase my knowledge of a period or topic although I dip into
pedagogical theory now and again. As a youngster I was enthralled by the
Arthurian legends and the tales of knights in shining armour. As an older man I
still am, and this is probably the reason I enjoy medieval history so much,
although now I have a much more nuanced outlook. Most of my reading over the
last couple of years has been geared towards building a clear understanding of
the Norman Conquest period so it won’t surprise you to find I had two books on
this in my summer reading pile.

The first was Frank Barlow’s “Edward the Confessor”. I have been intrigued by
Edward’s rule and the varying interpretations of it and him. Why did he marry
Godwin’s daughter, Edith? Did he hold the Earl responsible for the death of his
brother, Alfred? What was his relationship with Harold like? Earlier this year I read
Peter Rex’s biography of Edward and this challenged the idea of a man
constantly on his knees. I now wanted to read what Barlow thinks of him. To
supplement this, I  read Barlow’s “The Godwins”. This is a much shorter
book focussing on the Godwin dynasty – their rise and fall from power. I think
students love to hear teachers tell them about the people they are learning
about and this book should give me a story or two about the Earl and his brood.

I enjoy teaching Medicine Through Time, or whatever it is called now, but never
feel I do it justice. I’ve got some inspiration from my third book this
summer: “Medieval Bodies” by Jack Hartnell. The Wellcome Trust archives
have been well and truly trawled to produce this wonderfully colourful book. Set
out, as Hartnell states, “to present treatments from head to heel” as well as
provide, “a jumping of point for exploring all kinds of aspects of medieval life”.
This is an enlightening and enjoyable read.

You may have noticed that these books haven’t left the medieval period and that my list
closely followed the GCSE course I teach. Well I did take a step into the
unknown. I have been lucky enough to be involved in the Historical Association’s
Teacher Fellowship programmes. This year, under the guidance of Katie Hall
(@katiehall1979) and Ben Walsh (@History_Ben), I have been inspired to delve
into the Regency period, a period of history that is almost a complete blank for
me. A parent at school brought in a copy of “The Boss of Bethnal Green” by
Julian Woodford for me to read and I thought, why not? This is the story of the
real-life Godfather of Regency London, Joseph Merceron. It sets out to place
Merceron in the late-eighteenth century East End. I got two chapters in and couldn’t put it down. Woodford’s depiction of this part of London at this time in
history does not pull any punches. This encouraged me to build on my
knowledge of this period and I welcome any suggestions for further reading.

The final two books on my reading list were fiction. Whilst at home I read non-
fiction but when the Kerridge family hit the road for our holiday it’s escapism all
the way. I bought a box-set of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels several years
ago and I’m slowly working my way through them. I love the films (Pierce
Brosnan, in case you’re asking) and read “Thunderball” for part of a popular
culture course at university and I read it again this year. I find the
differences between film and book interesting, in that Bond is in awe of
Americans in the early novels. This is something you don’t get from the films. My
final book was also something I have read before but I am looking forward to
reading it again, “Waterland” by Graham Swift. This book was recommended
to me by a geography teacher colleague years ago because he knew I came from
the fens. I was transfixed by the section on eels and loved being reunited with this novel again.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my reading! What did you read? What should I put on my reading list for half term? Why not get involved in the discussion and tweet your responses or recommendations. Write a book review with the hash tag #HistoryTeacherBookReview and don’t forget to copy us in @histassoc.

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