Monday, 31 January 2011

Mubarak and Egypt

Here is a brief and interesting comment comparing events in Egypt this week with the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 that led to Hosni Mubarak becoming President of Egypt. Mubarak has always been a staunch ally of the United States, giving President Obama very little room to manoeuvre when reacting to the very considerable demands for greater political freedom. We will see how things develop.

The King's Speech

Nonsuch HP has been pleased to hear that many students have seen The King's Speech over the last few weeks. The film has clearly done very well, winning positive reviews, awards and nominations and seems to be very popular in the cinema. The film covers the events leading to the abdication of Edward VIII and George VI's accession to the throne. As this article shows, this was a time of economic and political crisis - the time of the Jarrow March and Oswald Mosley's blackshirts, and of ominous storm clouds gathering as Hitler increased his grip on Germany and its neighbours. The King's personal crisis therefore had important implications for a country in need of a figurehead. "When war broke out in 1939," writes Dominic Sandbrook, "he became an unlikely symbol of national resistance, his mundane domesticity a reminder of what Britain was fighting for."

There have been some criticisms of the film's historical accuracy - particularly over the role of Churchill. Michael White writes that, "The absence of deference, stifling and awful though it must have been, is inherently wrong." Christopher Hitchins is more critical of the portrayal of Churchill. He believes that the film shows Churchill to be too critical of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, who were dangerously sympathetic to Hitler's views. In reality Churchill damaged his political repuation in his efforts to defend him, "turning up at the House of Commons—almost certainly heavily intoxicated... —and making an incoherent speech in defense of "loyalty" to a man who did not understand the concept."

What did you think of the film? Did you think it was acccurate, and does this matter? Please let us know.

Friday, 28 January 2011


Today is the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle. All 7 members of its crew were killed and the disaster was a major setback for the USA's space programme. The disaster was particularly memorable as millions of people around the world watched it happen live on television. This was partly because one of the astronauts was a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who had been selected and trained to inspire students to take an interest in NASA's work. Many schools took an interest in the launch, which was beamed live to many classrooms. Nonsuch HP remembers very clearly watching the footage on Newsround the next day. This BBC article examines how Americans reacted to the tragedy.

President Obama's recent reference to a "Sputnik Moment" in his State of the Union address shows America's continuing fascination with space exploration. It will be interesting to see if competition from China (who last month, just as America's Secretary of Defence was visiting, unveiled their latest "stealth" jet fighter) will encourage a new "space race" to develop.

PS: You can read more about Sputnik (and hear it!) here and here on Nasa's history pages.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. We were reminded of this at Nonsuch by Mr Sides' excellent assembly that focused on some of the lesser known stories of the Holocaust, such as the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece, and the work of Nicholas Winton, a British businessman who was able to transport 669 Jewish children out of Prague before the Second World War began. You can learn more about him here and here. He is still alive (aged 101!) and recently met 22 of the people who he saved. Channel 5 has made a documentary about him and you can watch it here.

The History Today blog discusses the opening of a new website, The Holocaust Explained, designed to explain why the Holocaust and other acts of genocide took place. There are useful timelines and answers to key questions. There is an also an article discussing the origins of the term "blood libel", used recently and controversially by Sarah Palin. It refers to a particularly unpleasant myth used to spread hysteria about Jewish communities, and is something that really should not be used outside of its historical context.

It may now be 66 years since Auschwitz was liberated, but Holocaust Memorial Day provides an important moment to stop and think about how we always have a choice either to either condone something we know to be wrong through inaction or stand up against it. It is up to us.

How Hitler was Fooled

A document has come to light at Bletchley Park showing how Hitler had been convinced that the Allies would invade in the Calais region in 1944. He then ordered his troops to concentrate their defences there, allowing the D-Day landings to go ahead on 6 June with less resistance than they would otherwise have met. The story of how he was fooled is fascinating, and involves a Spanish double agent called Juan Pujol Garcia, known by his codename of Garbo. This "balding, boring, unsmiling little man" convinced the Germans that he was passing on genuine British intelligence. Indeed, much of the time he was in order to strengthen his cover, but when it came to crucial information such as this he was able to completely deceive them. He eventually gave advance warning of the actual landing sites, but too late for the Germans to deal with it, and then followed it up with red herrings designed to convince them that further, heavier attacks would take place elsewhere in France later on.

German intelligence, sent in the Enigma code, was then deciphered by the team of up to 10,000 people working at Bletchley Park, and this particular document gave absolute proof that Hitler had been fooled. "It was like turning up a crock of gold," said Peter Wescombe, who used to work there. "It was absolutely wonderful."

You can find out more about Bletchley Park at their website, and on this BBC page which includes videos of how the Enigma machines work and how they were decoded by Alan Turing and his team of "unarmed intellectuals".

PS: Here are some of the other interesting documents that have been recently revealed.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

State of the Union

It was Obama's State of the Union address yesterday. With Gabrielle Giffords' seat empty, there was a real mood of bipartisanship if only among some of the Congressmen and women who, contrary to convention, chose to sit together. Many commentators have seen it as a speech that defiantly argues for the positive role of government - see below's quotation, Mark Mardell and Channel 4 - but there is much else to consider - see BBC's key excerpts.
"I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."
And for those thinking of becoming a teacher, "To every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child - become a teacher. Your country needs you."

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Collapse of the Soviet Union

Dr Emmett Sullivan from Royal Holloway returns to Nonsuch on Tuesday to talk about the reasons why the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in 1991 (The picture above is from the failed coup in 1991). It will be at 1.15 in the library and everyone is welcome. It will of course be of particular interest to A2 students for their extended essay and GCSE students for their Cold War studies.

The Mumsnet Mafia

Two interesting articles with a similar parenting themes have appeared over the weekend. Bagehot in the Economist examines the phenomenon that all three of the party leaders, plus many of their significant advisers, all have children aged 9 or under. This is partly because they are all younger than their predecessors, generally in their early 40s, and have chosen to have their children later. All have committed to spend quality time with their families, and Bagehot asks how else they might be affected.
"The Tory party of ten years ago was slow to grasp the importance of social policies," he writes. "For today’s leadership, children are the “ultimate nudge”, he says, a reference to the Cameron camp’s zeal for “nudging” people into changing behaviour. At its simplest, parenthood exposes even the affluent middle classes to public services, from hospitals to day-care centres or libraries."

Meanwhile The Guardian has an interview with Justine Roberts, the founder of the Mumsnet parenting website. This site has attracted a huge amount of political attention and media interest, as its forthright contributors are seen as having considerable influence on political opinion, particularly with the current obsesssion with the "Squeezed middle" group. Gordon Brown's refusal to reveal his favourite biscuit in an online interview caused a brief controversy in 2009, but more recent issues, such as criticism of the recent EastEnders baby-swap plot, and the Riven Vincent case, show that the site's influence is continuing to grow. What's your opinion?

Friday, 21 January 2011

10 O'Clock Live

Channel 4 launched 10 O'Clock Live last night with excellent timing, broadcasting as it did just hours after Alan Johnson's resignation. It is being pitched as their answer to the USA's Daily Show, although it is a pity that that series has now been curtailed on More 4 to one episode a week. The Guardian's review noted that it received an immediate avalanche of criticism on Twitter, but that the show had some long term promise! Did you watch it? What did you think? Please let us know.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Disastrous History Teaching

Nonsuch HP has just discovered this extract (5 minutes long - well worth listening to) from an discussion that took place over Christmas on the Today Programme. On it the historians Niall Ferguson and Tariq Ali (shown above) are both in agreement that the current teaching of History in schools is "disastrous" and a "disgrace". Ferguson argues that History is taught in a very fragmented way, wih no narrative structure, and students are giving it up too soon. Ali says that students come away from school with "virtually worthless" knowledge and standards are considerably lower than anywhere else in Europe, India or China, a problem that is continuing into university as well.

This connects in with the coalition's ongoing interest in reforming the curriculum, as discussed before in the blog. Do you agree with these views? Has your education been disastrous? What should be changed?

JFK's Inaugural Speech

President John F Kennedy delivered his famous inaugurual speech 50 years ago today. It includes the famous line "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" and many other impressive pieces of rhetoric. Kennedy ordered his aide to analyse all the previous inaugural speeches, plus other famous speeches such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to try to understand the key to what made a particular phrase memorable and successful. As this interesting article from the BBC shows, the speech is full of contrasts, as shown in the example above, 3 part lists, and alliteration, such as "Let us go forth to lead the land we love". The research paid off, and JFK, despite his comparative youth, was able to establish himself and set his agenda both with his domestic audience and the rest of the world. You can see video of the speech, and annotations of its highlights, here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

French Revolution Guide

This musical guide to the French Revolution may be of interest, especially to AS students!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Castle Competition 2011

Here are some of the winning entries in this year's castle competition. The standard was very high and we were delighted that so many students were ready to take part. Well done everybody!

Entrance Hall Display

The Winning Castle!

The Best Motte and Bailey Castle

FDR Tops Presidents' Poll

British historians have been polled about who they think was the greatest US President, and Franklin D Roosevelt has come out on top. They were asked to rate every President from 1789 to 2009 (ie not including Barack Obama, and also not William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, who died shortly after taking office) in 5 categories:
  • vision/agenda-setting
  • domestic leadership
  • foreign policy leadership
  • moral authority
  • positive historical significance of their legacy

The Top 5 were:

1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45)
2. Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
3. George Washington (1789-97)
4. Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)
5. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)

George W Bush came 31st, Bill Clinton was 19th, George Bush (Senior) was 22nd, and Ronald Reagan 8th.

US polls tend to put Abraham Lincoln first because of his achievements in ending the Civil War and abolishing slavery, but it is possible that the recent economic climate has given people new respect for FDR's achievement in establishing his New Deal. What are your opinions and where do you think Obama should come in the list?

PS: If you would like more data, here is a direct link to the survey, from the "United States Presidency Centre".

The ‘Brokeback Coalition’, is it for real?

When the Conservative party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats after the May 2010 election failed to supply Tories with their much desired majority, I don’t think any of us quite expected the public ‘bromance’ between David Cameron and Nick Clegg which blossomed almost immediately afterwards. Despite casually insulting each other and their party’s policies throughout the election campaign, with Cameron once calling Clegg his ‘favourite joke’, especially on the three live television debates, Cameron and Clegg appeared to immediately put the past behind them and get stuck in on the small matter of running the country.

Although in the public interest this may be, some, including myself may perceive this as a desperate move by the power starved Lib Dem’s, to seize what may be their first and last opportunity to be in power and influence UK government policy. Is the friendship between our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister built to last, or is it just a ‘friends with benefits’ deal, which is liable to break down when either party’s main principles are significantly compromised? So far, there is no sign of this happening, as the recent bill for the rise in the university tuition fee cap to £9000 has shown that the Lib Dem’s are more than willing to sacrifice their dignity and public support to stay on amicable terms with their coalition partners.

We will never know the exact words exchanged back in May 2010, when Cameron and Clegg sealed the deal and decided to commit to forming first coalition government in 70 years, but one can guess that Cameron’s suggestions were more than likely compromising to the majority of Lib Dem policies. Despite this, it is apparent that the Lib Dem’s are managing to ‘water down’ some of the more right wing policies of the original Conservative manifesto, such as raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1m, which has now been put back, and they will likely hold a referendum on switching to the AV voting system, which was previously opposed by the Tories.

Shunning the criticisms from former shadow home secretary David Davis that this ‘Brokeback Coalition’ is not in the public interest, Cameron and Clegg insist that the phrase does not capture the true spirit of the coalition which is “two separate parties led by two separate leaders, recognising that this country is facing some very difficult short-term challenges”. Only time will tell if this so called ‘sprit’ and enthusiasm for reigniting our economy and bettering our country as a whole can last a full parliamentary term, but so far things are certainly looking promising. There is no doubt in mind my however, that come the next election, whenever that may be, that the popularity of the Liberal Democrats will not compare to that seen in the run up to the 2010 election.

Many thanks to AW for this post.

How Wrong Can You Be?

The twentieth century saw technological, political and social change at a rate far quicker than ever before. Whilst in hindsight, some of the events and developments may today appear to have been inevitable; history has shown that on many occasions, influential and powerful leaders and experts often had little idea of just how drastically their world was to change.

Politically, the United Kingdom, and more widely, the world, would now be a very different place had the predictions of Margaret Thatcher and Neville Chamberlain been correct. Speaking in 1974, Thatcher declared that it would be “years -- not in my time -- before a woman will become Prime Minister”. In fact it would be only five years, and she would be in office – a momentous, although often controversial premiership that has shaped the way much of the British public views politics. On the 30th September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, made a statement, which was to be completely wrong little less than a year later when Britain declared war on Germany. Showing just how unexpected war was, he boldly declared that he believed it “is peace for our time”. Unfortunately, Britain found itself fighting arguably the world’s most tyrannical ruler, Adolf Hitler.

Political change, although often drastic, is often much harder to pre-empt and a major event can happen without much prior warning. In many ways, it is the inaccurate social and technological predictions that are most telling about how rapidly change was taking place. “We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out” was the verdict on the Beatles given by Decca Recording Co. Without realising, they had just rejected the biggest boy band of all time.

In regards to computing, computer manufacturer, IBM, has seriously underestimated the role that computers were to play in modern life not only once, but twice. In 1943, the company’s chairman, Thomas Watson said; “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers". This was followed in 1968 with, "But what ... is it good for?" by an engineer in regards to the microchip – a device heralded by Robert Winston as one of the ten biggest breakthroughs on his programme, ‘How Science Changed Our World’. It is yet to be seen whether our present day anticipation of the future will be any more accurate, but similar quotations and thoughts that have already been proven to be incorrect can be viewed on

Many thanks to SF for this post.

A-Level Blacklists

One of the most difficult decisions to make: choosing your A-Level subjects. Now after all of that meticulous planning, you find out that you have fallen into the trap of taking...a Blacklisted A-Level. These are subjects that some universities consider to be of "more limited suitability". Set aside are 13 subjects including sociology, psychology, business studies and archaeology which are less favourable than traditional choices.

What is to become of those who have chosen one of these fateful few? Well rest-assured, they are acceptable in some departments, presumably the ones you are hoping to apply to. The Government is planning to restrict the growth of these subject, arguing that they could potentially damage students' chances of a University place also calling for lists to be published. Considering the tution fee rises and influx of applicants, it will be more difficult than ever to have a University place.

I always knew thirteen was unlucky.

PS: Here is further reading on the subject from the BBC and the Daily Mail.

PPS: The image is from Dongguan in China - there are 1200 students in the hall!

Many thanks to JN for this post.

Blog Competition and BBC Style Guide

Many thanks to those students who entered the blog competition this year. The entries were few in number but high in quality! We will publish them shortly, and were pleased that Years 10, 12 and 13 were all represented. We would like to run the competition again, but acknowledge that maybe the Christmas period wasn't the most convenient time. If you have any suggestions on when we should do this, please let us know - maybe the summer?

PS: You may find this writing style guide from the BBC quite helpful for History, Politics or Critical Thinking essays. It has plenty of tips (mainly for journalists) on how to use words clearly and accurately. Here are some examples:
"Historic is a popular word with journalists. It is nice to think that the events we are describing will resonate down the decades, but who are we to judge? Use with great care, and never confuse with historical, which means belonging to history."

"Unique has a unique meaning, and it is that there is only one of something (uni as in unicycle, unicorn or unisex). Nothing can be almost unique.You should be saying distinctive or unusual."

"Draconian is much overused, usually by people with no idea who Draco was. (If asked, say he was an Athenian judge who ruled that the penalty for almost everything should be death.) Try severe or harsh instead."

Friday, 14 January 2011


A victory for Labour? Relief for the Lib Dems? Concern for the Conservatives? What do you think the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election last night shows and what do you think it will mean for the May elections?
Have a look at the reporting of the result on the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph (also a nice feature on most influential politicians), and make up your own mind.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Emmett Sullivan

Dr Emmett Sullivan will be speaking today at the HP Society in the library at 1.15. He is a Senior Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway, which not only has the largest history department in the University of London, but was also Miss D'Souza's old college! He will be speaking about what it's like to study History at university. All are welcome to attend. Dr Sullivan will be returning to Nonsuch on 25 January to speak about the events which led to the collapse of the USSR.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Political rhetoric?

The recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left 6 dead and Giffords fighting for her life with a bullet through her head has led to a debate as to whether it is political rhetoric that has led to this tragedy. Certainly Sarah Palin's map of 'targets' has been highly publicised although now many conservatives are defending themselves by accusing Democrats of exploiting the event to attack them. Make up your own mind with a range of opinions here on the BBC and Mark Mardell's blog and a range of articles on CNN including Rush Limbaugh's defence.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Christmas Blog Writing Competition

Last chance to take part in the blog writing competition! It's open to anyone in Years 10 - 13 and can be on any political or historical subject. The deadline is the end of school on Monday. We would love to read your entries!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twelfth Night - or is it?

Happy Twelfth Night! Or is it the Twelfth Day of Christmas? Or neither? It's definitely Epiphany (or 3 Kings Day) but there is some confusion about whether we should traditionally take down our Christmas decorations today or yesterday. Here's is the Guardian's take on this, and here are the thoughts of the editor of History Today. One tradition associated with the day was the baking of a cake with a single bean inside it. Whoever got the bean was king for the day, and everybody had to do what he or she said. Nonsuch HP approves of any tradition to do with cakes, so get baking everybody!

Elizabeth I and her Government

There are some useful websites available commenting on how Elizabeth governed her country and how successful she was. has a good collection of useful material plus some good reading suggestions. Here is a useful summary of how the council was established, and here is an argument from Natalie Mears suggesting that the council wasn't as influential as was first thought. (Here is an overview of the book, plus references to other articles that may be helpful) Finally, here is a more historiographical account from John Guy, assessing differing historians' opinions on Elizabeth's political approach, which is an excellent source for interpretations.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of our readers! We hope you have had a relaxing break and are ready for 2011. Don't forget that the closing date for the blog, castle and film competition is next Monday 10 January. Details can be found here.