Hodder History Expert Blog

OCR War and Society
By Ben Walsh
26 May
Well, it’s finally arrived! The last of the textbooks for OCR GCSE History Specification A has finally landed. War and Society in Britain c790 to c 2010, along with the British Depth Study on The Personal Rule to Restoration 1629-60 and the Historic Environment Study on Castles is no longer a collection of drafts and revisions but a real book in the real world!

It has been a bit of an epic journey to get all of these books out. And an epic wait for many of you! Apologies, for that, and thank you for your patience and your support. It has been wonderful working with incredibly talented and dedicated teachers, examiners and authors to make the specification a reality on the ground. It has also been so inspiring to talk to and work with groups of students and their teachers as they wrestle with the new spec. There have been formal talks to bright eyed Y10s, planning meeting with their slightly stressed and nervous teachers and also a range of mini-standardisation meetings in which we have been ironing out and streamlining the assessment.

So far so busy, but the real buzz has been working with teachers who really love and value their subject. Many tell me they signed up to OCR Spec A because to them it felt like ‘real’ history – challenging, fascinating, a mix of approaches and some new material combined with old favourites. They feel they can spend their lessons teaching history rather than teaching exams because the exams are clear and, much more importantly, these teachers believe in teaching history rather than exams.

I hope that this combination of passion for the subject, idealism, practicality and the desire to give students a really good history education comes through in the textbooks. I believe it does, and I am excited about how the new book on War and Society adds to this commitment.

It is three studies in one so it offers a years work.

It begins with the thematic study looking at how war has shaped society in Britain and how society has shaped war in a period of over 1000 years. We are making some really big points in this book, for example the way in which war has had a profound impact on our sense of national identity at many key points such as Edward I’s wars with Scotland, the Hundred Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars. Another really big point is the way in which wars simply cannot be fought without a society in the background propping up the war efforts. Medieval knights needed horses, armour, weapons, food. Somebody had to provide all of these. By the Second World War it was generally accepted that it took about 3-4 men and women to keep one soldier fed and equipped for battle.

There were many such fascinating insights, all brought to light with some really amazing stories and source material. The coins of Athelstan and the royal seals of William the Conqueror or Elizabeth I were practically textbook chapters in their own right. There are also plenty of reminders of the grim realities of warfare such as the drawings of 16th century conflict by soldiers who had seen combat close up or the early photographic records of war from the Crimean War and Boer Wars. A personal favourite for me is the government’s paranoia about ordinary citizens divulging sensitive information during the Cold War, while all along Soviet agents like Burgess, Philby and McClean were making hay.

One of the other key elements of our course and of our textbooks is that we genuinely want students to consider how history helps us to understand and explain the modern world. The recent bombing in Manchester was a grim reminder of new types of warfare which have affected Britain since the World Wars, particularly the Northern Ireland conflict and the struggle against Islamist extremism. Many of our students have real and valid questions about these events but many probably do not have the historical grounding to make sense of them to the fullest extent. Once again it has been really gratifying to hear teachers say that they really want to engage with these difficult questions and that they value the way the spec does not shy away from them and supports them as they help their students to try to make sense of it.

Of course there is more to this book than the Thematic Study. I have always loved studying Britain in the 17th century and I have loved digging into the Depth Study on Britain 1629-60. But how can anyone not indulge in a period with a cast list which includes Charles I and Oliver Cromwell? And which has such complexities: the deal making, the compromises and conflicts as the country searched for a way to balance the idea of a divinely appointed monarch with a set of liberties that most people saw as going back to Magna Carta. In the Depth Study on Personal Rule 1629-60 we unashamedly engage students in important ideas like liberty, as well as explaining the mysteries of 17th century religion and the organisation of the church. We have tried to bring students into the 17th century, to use original source material to get under the skin of 17th century people and to try to understand what mattered to them and why. 

We try to build on what we think most students will have covered in KS3. For example, most students at KS3 will be familiar with the growing tensions between Charles I and Parliament in 1641-42. In this book we have developed that narrative a little further because we feel that Y10s and Y11s should be able to cope with the idea that although Charles I had his opponents, those opponents were divided. So we devote time and space to looking at the motives of those who initially opposed Charles and then returned to his side in 1641-42, something that the demands of KS3 programmes would not usually have time for. We also take care to avoid drifting into the Whiggish narrative of inevitability, presenting students with the awkward fact that despite everything many people, probably most people, wanted Charles I restored in 1647.

And so to the final study Castles; Form and Function. Paul Shuter, the main author of this section, knows more about castles than I will ever know. His opening section on how to read the wall of a castle is one of the most interesting and engaging resources I have ever seen. Once again, we have tried to build on KS3 and move beyond it. At KS3 most students learn about the siting and operation of a medieval castle as a military fortress. It seems reasonable then for a Y10 or Y11 to grasp that most castles have numerous roles in their lifetimes, usually progressing from military installation to home or palace and often ending up as a centre of administration or justice or perhaps a barracks. The multiple and changing roles are explored with a wonderful array of source material designed to provide context for the study of the castles featured in the examination. And of course the five castles named in the spec are also explored in depth to give students the confidence they need to tackle that part of their exam.

Ben Walsh
War and Society is published on 26 May 2017

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