Outlining Historiography at A Level
Interpretations change and for some A level students this can be both perplexing and irritating. Before they can explain why interpretations change, however, it is important to have a good grasp of the pattern of those changes – otherwise students can flounder, failing to understand what it is they are trying to explain. Where there is a clear chronological development in interpretations, students can be helped by creating an historiographical timeline with piles of books.
Changing Interpretations of Henry VII
1) Give students a pile of textbooks that they use (or should use) and ask them to sort them into chronological order of publication. Lay them out on desk tops or the floor so all can see. This helps them to think about the importance of when a book was published and where they find that information.
For this topic they could use, for example:
- Guy (1990)
- Rogers (1991)
- Dawson (1993)
- Ellsmore and Rogerson (2001)
- Pendrill (2004)
2) Now either summarise yourself or get students to summarise the books’ opinions on Henry VII – those in the early 1990s were generally very favourable, the latter books much more critical. Why have interpretations changed?
3) Now bring in a second set of writings that have significantly contributed to changing interpretations – in this case these include articles as well as books e.g.
- Steven Gunn, ‘The courtiers of Henry VII’, English Historical Review, 1993.
- Ian Arthurson, The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, 1994
- Dominic Luckett, ‘Patronage, violence and revolt in the reign of Henry VII’ in R. Archer, Crown, Government and People in the Fifteenth Century,1995.
- Benjamin Thomson, The Reign of Henry VII, 1995
- Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses, 1996.
If you don’t have copies then use cards showing the titles and dates. Ask students to put these on the timeline. Clearly they fill the gap between the positive and negative interpretations. Just use the dates – no need to read them - yet!
4) Ask students to ask questions about the new group of writings – what do they want to know about them? This then leads into an exploration of these newer writings.
It’s the physical, concrete nature of this task that will help some students make sense of the changing pattern – moving books and putting them in order is simple but the physicality is important to some.
Revision activities could include asking students in pairs to summarise the different interpretations in c.1990 and c.2005 and why they had changed or to play the role of a historian who wrote c.1990 and explaining why he/she would now have to revise his/her book.
- What impact did the activity have on specific misunderstandings about Historiography that happen year after year?
- Did this activity make a particular difference to any individuals’ understanding of Historiography?
- What was the impact of this activity on how students approached the books they read? [discuss with students]
- How will you build on this activity in the rest of the course – either to cement its lessons or extend understandings of Historiography?