Reflection on historical scholarship … Giles Milton on Churchill’s mavericks

In this blogpost we responded to requests for book reviews linked to a teacher subject knowledge reading list. It’s a resource that we can keep expanding as #obhd. Please send additions when you find them.

We are also keen to share colleagues’ thoughts about useful books they have read. How has a book changed your thinking? How has a book given you new ideas for future practice?

In this series of daily blogposts, teacher trainees reflect on a book that they read and discussed with their mentors. The purpose of this reading was not necessarily for use directly in teaching, rather to emphasise to trainees the importance of continuing to update their subject knowledge and the value of discussion with colleagues. Sometimes the reading has led directly to specific teaching ideas for a particular class or to a change in practice, but the posts also illustrate the different ways in which reading and discussing historical scholarship can support continuing professional development – for experienced teachers as much as for trainees.

Today’s reflection on Giles Milton’s ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Churchill’s Mavericks: Plotting Hitler’s Defeat’ is written by Max Stevens.

My interest in Giles Milton’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare was prompted by the way in which it had engaged my father’s interest and prompted his questions.  For context, while my Father is keenly interested in History, and is rarely seen without a documentary in front of him, he suffers from severe dyslexia. That he had previously read (and enjoyed) Milton’s work was testament to its strengths. Indeed, following discussion with my curriculum tutor about the subjects and settings included within it, I decided to make tentative use it within the curriculum for a Year 8 class on the Second World War.

Keeping focus for KS3

Milton’s work focuses on the wartime actions of the SOE- a secretive and illustrious saboteur network operating from London. Closely following the operation and key individuals based in the United Kingdom, with chapters throughout also focusing on raids taking place throughout the world; the text reads as part historical account, part boys-own adventure story. As such, it has sufficient appeal for someone with a deep-seated reluctance to read and could (in short extracts) be used as a hook for my current Year 8 class. At present they have not been introduced to historical reading or accounts beyond limited source analysis, requiring literature that is, along with its historical validity, genuinely engagingly written. Making use of select chapters would introduce the war to them through personalising those who took part at its sharpest edge, and provide the thrills needed to keep the attention of a class not currently used to the thoroughness involved with long-form historical scholarship.

The wider WW2 picture

Beyond engagement, the current shape of Year 8’s suite of lessons on the Second World War lacks any inclusion of the British Home Front, or indeed the fate of nations incorporated into the Nazi sphere of influence. Milton’s work, with digestible one-shot chapters on areas such as the Scandinavian countries under Hitler, the French Resistance, and actions in North Africa, allows for students to take a wider view of the war. Working through similarity and difference as second order concepts, this book could allow students to take a more varied look at those affected by conflict and form the basis of a series of case studies. Indeed, many of those areas discussed within were critical to the war effort, but infrequently referenced in popular discourse. In working with ‘Ungentlemanly warfare’, a KS3 class would find themselves encountering historical scholarship focusing on a little-covered aspect of an existing course, in a divertingly delivered style.

Please do share more examples of reading, thinking and discussing historical scholarship as blogposts by sending them to enquiries@history.org.uk.

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