Reflection on historical scholarship … Dan Cruikshank’s work on the threat to Britain in World War Two

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 Dan Cruickshank’s ‘The German Threat to Britain in World War Two is written by Dania Ahmed.

Why we chose this: My mentor and I thought it would be interesting to read more about the Second World War as I would be moving on to teach this topic in the month ahead. We hoped that this account – written by the historic building expert and BBC presenter, Dan Cruickshank – would give us a deeper understanding of Britain’s position after France surrendered to Germany in 1940, and Britain became the Third Reich’s next target.

Our reflections on the account: We both agreed that the reading was brief yet comprehensive. It was an interesting read as it tapped into the mind-sets of those within each country when fighting the war. It was fascinating to learn about exactly how plans (for both attack and defence) were conceived. Military offences and operations which carry with them connotations of might, physicality and aggression, were in also, in effect, part of a psychological campaign, and could be seen as the manifestations of a game of chess. We discussed the way in which certain decisions in the war seemed to be made as a means of each side ‘playing mind games’ with the other side. This is apparent in the fact that although Hitler did not have a set plan for attack, this did not prevent him from announcing on 16 July that an invasion force (Operation Sealion) would be ready to sail. The account explains the choices that Germany took when faced with Britain’s decision to fight on after the defeat of France – seeking to wear Britain down, ‘psychologically through limited military action and through political and propaganda warfare, which would include the threat or bluff of invasion; or to actually invade’.

How could we use this? We concluded that the account could be very effectively integrated as a reading task within out lessons on World War 2. It was clear and concise, and would be accessible for students. The idea that Germany was ‘bluffing’ might come as a surprise to students and would therefore be likely to engage them. Through unpacking the decisions of the leaders, we can make this history a little more relatable, while many of the details would provide interesting discussion points.

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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