Thursday, 22 July 2010

Figes apologises - and some reading tips

Orlando Figes (Top picture) recently agreed to pay damages to settle the dispute over his attempts to cover up his disparaging comments on He has retracted his comments and agreed to pay legal comments, but if you read the statements by Rachel Polonsky (Middle picture) and Robert Service (Bottom picture), you will see that they are still very angry with Figes' behaviour and the stress it has caused them. Robert Service is particularly upset, stating that "it is inappropriate that a lecturer teaching about the lies in public life in Stalin’s USSR should himself be so menacing and dishonest." Faced with this onslaught, it is unlikely that Figes' reputation will be able to recover any time soon.

In other news, you may find this article on the joys of "slow reading" (compared to the fast skimming of articles and websites that the internet now encourages). Try to get to the end if you can!

Our Map

The map at the bottom of our page is about to be archived, and we will start with a fresh one for the next academic year. The picture above is therefore a map of all of our readers' locations for 2009-10 (click on it for more detail). Nonsuch HP has been very excited to discover that the blog has been read across the world, with our favourite locations being Kazakstan, Rwanda and, in the top spot, the Palestinian Territory. We were also excited to get a reader from Brazil this week - our first in South America! We would like to take this opportunity to send thanks to all our readers, at Nonsuch, in Britain or around the world, and hope they have a very enjoyable summer (or winter if you are south of the equator!)

Making History Website

The Institute of Historical Research have produced a new website called Making History which should come in very handy, especially for Personal Statement writers and A-Level students looking for historical interpretations. It has a database of significant historians, and examines the significant themes that have affected history over the last hundred years, such as Cultural History, Marxist History, Social History, etc and the leading historians associated with them. There are also plenty of articles on all kinds of subjects such as Family History, Film History, History and Computing, and so on.

There is clearly a goldmine of information here, so if you discover anything particularly useful, please let us know.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Curse of the Number Two

There is a good article on the BBC website today about Deputy Prime Ministers, questioning why so few of them go on to be successful PMs. Anthony Eden (Top picture) was a loyal Deputy PM to Winston Churchill for many years but, when he succeeded Churchill in 1955, his brief time in office was plagued by disasters such as the Suez Crisis in 1956. Lord Hattersley's view of DPMs is that they are not really Deputy Leaders, but "failed leaders" - unable to win the top spot for themselves. However, Nick Clegg's position, as part of a coalition, is a little different, and perhaps Clement Attlee (Bottom picture), Labour DPM to Churchill's PM during Britain's last coalition during World War 2 is a better example. According to the political historian Peter Hennessey, he had very little charisma or presence, and came across as a "benign gerbil", and yet he went on to become a widely respected PM responsible for the creation of the NHS after the war. Will Clegg be able to follow this model? Only time will tell.

PS: Clegg has come under plenty of pressure after his first performance at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. He declared the Iraq War to be "illegal" despite the fact it had had the full support of the Conservatives, who are of course now his coalition partners. More details here.
PPS: Clegg's debut at PMQs was certainly historic. It was the first time a Liberal Leader had stood at the despatch box since Lloyd George, over 90 years ago...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Big Society comes to Sutton

David Cameron's plans for a "Big Society" will include our borough of Sutton - the only London borough (and one of only four councils) to be included. The idea appears to be that communities will be given greater powers to run their own facilities, such as post offices, libraries and transport services. Sutton itself will concentrate on sustainable transport services and youth projects and hope to be "champions of green living"... Funding will come in part from dormant bank accounts, although it has been pointed out that costs would be reduced if much of the work was now done by enthusiastic volunteers rather than council workers and civil servants. There have been concerns that this is a front to mask spending cuts. Ed Milliband has described it as a "cynical attempt" to "dignify its cuts agenda by dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society". What do you think about all this - do you think the borough is a suitable place for these plans - and what would you change first if you had the chance?

When Cameron meets Obama...

Prime Minister David Cameron is to meet with President Obama today in Washington. Difficult items on the agenda - Afghanistan, BP and the economy. What have previous relationships between prime ministers and presidents been like and what is the nature of the special relationship? These will be the questions being asked by the media over the next few days and the BBC have created a short clip of video on the history of some of those relationships. The Telegraph also discussed the likelihood of Obama and Cameron getting on last year. However, the trip, and the history of the relationship, is due to be overshadowed by the ongoing concern over the release of Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi to Libya and what that had to do with BP. Cameron has now bowed to pressure to meet with four US senators to answer questions about the controversy. The Guardian discusses the issue.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Jon Snow and Zac Goldsmith

Jon Snow and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative MP for Richmond) had a pretty heated discussion about Goldsmith's campaign expenses on Channel 4 News last Thursday. You can see the interview and Channel 4's reaction to it here. According to the Guardian, "Goldsmith accused Snow of telling viewers "deliberate and outrageous" lies and warned Channel 4 News to "watch it" during a finger-wagging 13-minute appearance. At one point Goldsmith – who has the backing of the Conservative party over the allegations – leaned over the desk and pointed at Snow, protesting: "You are being a charlatan on this.""

Here is Goldsmith's response from his website. What's your opinion on all this?

Cameron hopes Facebook can help

David Cameron has asked Facebook's co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to help the government ask for suggestions from the public about what to do about the deficit. See the mutual congratulations here on Youtube. What do you think - a genuine attempt to engage with voters and young people or a cynical ploy to appear open to debate? Have a look at the Number 10 Downing Street website for more video selections from the government.

The History Debate continues...

Fun and war games in History? The Western ascendancy and battlefield trips? Niall Ferguson in a Guardian interview continues the debate over History in schools with more suggestions on how to engage pupils. What do you think? Is it too male an agenda, ie rejecting school trips to stately homes and enhusing about the value of video games? Or is he realistic in his suggestions in an environment where more pupils are taking up Design & Technology than History?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ferocious Aussies

Nick Bryant, the BBC's Australia correspondent, has written an excellent piece summing up the political events of the last few months which led to the resignation of Prime Minster Kevin Rudd and his replacement by Julia Gillard. Australian politics is unlikely to be on the A-Level syllabus anytime soon, but he makes an interesting comparison between the ferocious behaviour of Australian politicians and events in the UK and the US. "By design and through necessity," he writes, " Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are fashioning a new politics that is more ecumenical, less clannish and genuinely bipartisan. Australian politics is in danger of looking like a throwback."

PS: The brief appearance of this sign by a Tea Party group, comparing President Obama to Lenin and Hitler suggests not everyone has yet signed up to these ideas of "new politics"...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Summer reading

On the subject of summer reading... here is an interview with Peter Hennessy about the recent release of his updated version of 'The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010'. It is a great interview with Hennessy who gives a glimpse of his thorough research and analysis together with some great anecdotes. The book is well worth considering for a summer read particularly if you are looking for an issue to mention in your personal statement and you are interested in the Cold War.
Add any books you have found that might be worth a read...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Personal Statement Tips

Here are a few useful tips from University College London on what you should and shouldn't put into your personal statement if applying for a History course. (These lessons of course apply very well for Politics applications too!) For example:

1. Don't write an essay on why History is important - admission tutors already know this becuause they have chosen to be historians! Instead focus on WHY you want to study History and concentrate on your own relationship with the subject.

2. Back up your claims with evidence - mention something specific that has drawn you to the subject, such as a book or a museum.

3. Use your other interests and activities to give a rounded sense of yourself and show how these relate to your historical interests.

Summer Reading

NOTE: This has been adapted and updated from an article that was first published last year and gives you a few ideas to get started on what books to read if you are considering history at university.

For people with UCAS and university interviews on their mind, Summer is a good time to find inspiration by reading some history books.

David Aaronovitch of The Times has helpfully made some recommendations, which include "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson, which looks at the global history of finance and "The Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800" by Jay Winik, which considers the connections between the momentous political events of the late 18th Century. Both books would obviously provide helpful parallels with our current political and economic problems.

Tudor Historians may find "Mary Tudor:England's First Queen" of interest as it takes quite a sympathetic view of her and David Starkey's "Henry-The Virtuous Prince" looks closely at the often neglected early years of Henry VIII's life. Here is a further selection of Tudor History books and here is a guide from to useful authors.

EH Carr's "What is History" is the classic introduction to the nature of the subject and some ideas of historiography. Although it was published 48 years ago, it still contains many stimulating ideas to get the historian thinking. Other books that follow similar ideas, often written in response to Carr, include Geoffrey Elton's "The Practice of History, Richard Evans' "In Defence of History" and John Tosh's "The Pursuit of History". More information about these ideas can be seen at the Institute of History's special section on "What is History" here and in the Open University's website here.

If you are looking for further inspiration on what to read, check the "History Reviews" sections of the newspapers. Here is a links to the The Guardian'sand The Telegraph's history books secions. The Institute of Historical Research also has an extensive Reviews Section

The history section of course has a vast range of books and is worth checking for the latest to be published.

Please pass on any recommendations for books you have enjoyed, and happy reading!

PS: Here is a list of books and articles recommended for old AEA course (for A Level Students who wanted to stretch themselves further) which are worth considering.

Monday, 12 July 2010

History and Politics at University

If you are thinking of studying History or Politics (or a similarly themed degree) at university, please come along to the HP society on Tuesday (1.20 in Room 104) where there will be the chance to hear from former students about their experiences and get advice on personal statements and UCAS applications. There might even be a chance for the teachers to reminisce about their student days!

PS: Here is some data from the Guardian about univeristies offering History and Politics - although its provenance is a little unclear. There is some more general information here.

Obama & Immigration

The Economist's Lexington article this week criticises Obama over his inaction on the issue of immigration and his alienation of key Republican figures who might help him achieve immigration reform. What do you think?

Friday, 9 July 2010

Trouble with Bishops

The Church of England is heading for a difficult weekend when it wil discuss in its synod (meeting) whether women should be allowed to become bishops. Meanwhile news was leaked this week that Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans (top picture) would be appointed as the next Bishop of Southwark. This led to an outcry from the conservative wing of the church as Dr John is openly gay (but celibate) and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (bottom picture), has now decided to block that decision. The events have led to heated comments on both sides of the debate as shown here and here. There are concerns that the issue of gay bishops could lead to a schism and there are even demands that David Cameron should intervene on the issue. The Guardian's editorial today uses the controversy to examine the wider role of the Church of England within the state, suggesting its official position is an "accident sustained by apathy". However it believes that any move to disestablish the church would fail due to huge Parliamentary effort that would be needed to thoroughly disentangle it.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Brief History of Referendums

Here is a helpful 2 minute video from the BBC on Britain's previous referendums since 1973. Ed Milliband, Peter Bottomley and Simon Hughes then debate the implications and mechanics of the proposed referendum on AV here.

PS: Here is more from Nick Clegg on his proposals for Constitutional Reform

British woman on death row

Here is the Guardian's interview of Linda Carty, the British woman who is on death row in Texas, which was mentioned in today's Politics class. There are all sorts of problems with her case, the key one being that her lawyer has already had 20 clients end up on death row, a record in the USA.
What do you think?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Chicago and Arizona

Chicago City Council in a 45-0 vote approved a new gun ordinance after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city's 28-year-old strict ban on handgun ownership was unconstitutional. At the end of June the Supreme Court ruling overturned the city's previous handgun ban. Although it was expected, the decision confirms the conservative view of the court on gun issues. Two years ago a similar decision was taken regarding Washington DC's gun laws despite this interfering with states' rights. Chicago has particular reason for concern on the issue as last month 164 people were murdered in the city, mainly by a gun. Here is the CNN report.
Meanwhile on another contentious issue... the US Government is taking Arizona to court to try to stop its controversial laws on illegal immigration. It is believed that its powers to stop and ask for identification will lead to racial profiling on a large scale as there is a large Hispanic community in the state. Mark Mardell sums it up well.
What is your view on these issues? Liberal Europeans misunderstanding America's priorities or American exceptionalism of the worst kind?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Hungarian Revolution request

After a request at Year 12 Induction, here are some suggestions for those who want to take their interest in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 further.
Some of the books available are:
Explosion: the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 - John P C Matthews
One Day that shook the Communist World – Paul Lendvai
Journey to a Revolution: A personal memoir and History – Michael Korda
Twelve Days: Revolution 1956 – Victor Sebestyen (More from Sebestyn here)
If you are keen on film, Children of Glory and Freedom's Fury are definitely worth watching. Here are also some links to the BBC's archive on the event.

If you are interested in Hungary during the Cold War, you may also be curious about Eastern Europe as a whole during the Cold War.
There are some fantastic TV series about this period. For example, The Lost World of Communism series looks at communist society in Czechoslovakia, Romania and East Germany and the lives of ordinary people. The Cold War series (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)is a powerful series which includes a large number of interviews by those who made the political decisions at the time and those involved in the key historical events. Books such as Stasiland by Anna Funder about life in East Germany during the period are also well worth the investment of your time.
Any further recommendations, please add.

PS: Here is a review of 4 accounts of the revolution published to mark the 50th Anniversary in 2006

303 Squadron

Channel Four have been busy with history documentaries this week and have also produced a fascinating account (which you can watch here) of the contribution of Polish Pilots to the Battle of Britain. When it became clear that Poland would fall to the Nazis, over 8000 Polish airmen escaped to Britain at the beginning of the Second World War, and a Polish government was set up in exile. The Royal Air Force was initially indifferent to the skills of these pilots, but they quickly proved themselves as the pressure from the Luftwaffe mounted. 303 Squadron was formed specifically for Polish pilots, and by the end of war had one of the most impressive records of any squadron, including the shooting down of 126 planes during the Battle of Britain. The programme is based on the diary of one of the pilots on the squadron, who recorded his experiences until his death in 1942. His son is interviewed for the programme here. He is very proud of his father's contribution, but angry at how an image of a Spitfire has been used by the BNP despite the fact the markings show that the pilot is clearly Polish... (See image below - many thanks to Dr Dixon for this)

PS: More information here from a website about the Polish contribution to World War II

PPS: Here are pages on the Battle of Britain from the RAF, the BBC and Robert Fisk in the Independent.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Referendum on AV

For all those concerned that they missed out voting this year and may not get another opportunity to vote in a national election before 2015, along comes another possibility - the referendum on AV! May 2010 is the most likely date at the moment but it still has to get through Parliament first.
Important in producing the coalition government, the referendum is a risk for both Cameron and Clegg, much to the potential Labour leaders' delight. An article in the Guardian analyses its risks for Clegg, the BBC looks at an overview of the issue and the Electoral Reform Society gives a good definition. What do you think? Will this be a victory for Clegg or Cameron or the Labour party? Will it actually make any difference to the fairness of the electoral system?

PS: Here is a video debate on AV by a Conservative and Lib Dem MP

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Great Fire of London

Here is a fascinating article about the Great Fire of London, which was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary yesterday. Most people are familiar with the basic story -that the fire began in Thomas Farriner's bakery in Pudding Lane and was then spread rapidly across the city by a strong wind after a hot summer. However, the context is less known. England was at war with France and the Netherlands at the time and only weeks earlier the Royal Navy had deliberately set alight the Dutch city of West Terschelling. The majority of the people in London therefore assumed the Great Fire was a deliberate act of arson, and angry mobs sought out foreigners in the city to seek their revenge - a Frenchwoman was attacked because people thought the baby chicks she carried in her apron were fireballs.

The authorities believed the fire was an accident, but in September a French watchmaker confessed to starting the fire with 23 conspirators. His confession was deeply flawed but he was eventually hanged. Later it was discovered he was at sea at the time and people returned to the theory it was an accident. This did not stop the London Monument to the fire (Still standing close to London Bridge - see map below) from carrying a plaque blaming the Catholics for the fire. This was eventually removed in the 19th Century. Meriel Jeater, curator at the Museum of London, suggests that the paranoia shown after the Fire must have been very similar to how people must have felt after terrorist outrages like 9/11 and 7/7, and that human nature has changed very little in the meantime...

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New Design

As you have may have spotted, Nonsuch HP has had its first re-design. We've gone for a slightly "cleaner" look and which should stop some of the pictures and videos overlapping. What do you think? Do you miss the green? Please let us know your thoughts.

Google Books

You can now embed Google Books into blog posts, which may be really helpful for interesting articles and quotes that people find. Have a play around and please let us know your comments, or any books that you would recommend posting here.

PS: They also do magazines, such as this American edition of Popular Mechanics from November 1939. War may have been declared in Europe but this magazine at least seems very optimistic about the future...