Reflection on historical scholarship … teaching the 20thC

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 is not a work of historical scholarship, but definitely worth a read as a department. It is the HA’s publication ‘Exploring and Teaching the 20th Century‘ and this reflection is written by Natalia Garcia Garcia.

Why we chose this:

A lot of the schemes of work in my placement school were based on the 20th century. Although this was the case, the curriculum wasn’t very well linked together. What students learnt in Year 8 was not discussed in the following years, and cross-curricular discussions weren’t strongly encouraged by history teachers. Reading this together opened an intriguing conversation with my mentor about re-interpreting the century as a whole, as well as about the various specific topics that are relevant to my school.

Our discussion:

We discussed the heavy focus on the World Wars and fascism within the school’s existing schemes of work. This literature was important in teaching us how complex the 20th century was, and how many different topics could be explored by schools that are currently overlooked. Branding the 20th century as a ‘century of war’ can be dangerous, as many positive themes arose from the century, such as freedom and international relations. Shifting away from what we were taught in school and exploring new topics may help to shape new curriculums which engage with different perspectives and narratives of the century. Keeping up to date with scholarship (and with the work of other teachers through the Historical Association) allows teaching to be dynamic and flexible, open to change.

How will this affect our teaching?

Overall, it made me personally reflect on the topics chosen at my placement school. It made me think about what topics I would choose from our specification, for example conflict in the Middle East. Many teachers seem to shy away from choosing topics that they see as ‘too complicated for students.’ However, branching into different geographical areas and thinking more thematically can encourage us to extend our teaching beyond a rather narrow well-worn strip of history. My mentor enjoyed the quick read this piece provided, especially within the time constraints a teacher faces. It allows you to engage with scholarship and different perspectives in a short read, which definitely means it’s a worthwhile. Subscribing to the Historical Association is a useful way of not only keeping up to date with pedagogical debate, but also with debates about the substantive knowledge you’re teaching.

Please do share more examples of reading, thinking and discussing historical scholarship as blogposts by sending them to

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