Teaching History: The Great Escape

Medieval historian Nicholas Orme believes that the teaching of history in Britain’s universities is better now than it has ever been.

This magazine was founded in 1951, an age of rationing, bomb damage and National Service. I was at school then, went to university towards the end of the decade and started my academic career in 1964. History at the time was as drab and dull as life.

The scope of history had hardly changed in 50 years. It emphasised chronology, great tracts of the past, strained and panted over as on a cross-country run. The route led largely past kings and wars and parliaments. Religion slipped in during the earlier centuries, but thankfully it stopped with James II. After that there were a few (but only a few) economic and social topics such as ‘Turnip’ Townshend and the Victorian slums. Books were written about other social and cultural matters, but they were thought of as ‘popular’ or ‘literary’ and hardly impinged at all on mainstream history.

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