Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Politics Questions

The Nonsuch Politics Dept blog has had an update, and now has the latest questions for AS Unit 1 and A2, which may assist your revision. Here is a link.

NPR and other Radio Stations

This post includes links to radio stations you may find useful, whilst revising or just catching up with what's going on in the world.

NPR: National Public Radio from the USA.
BBC Radio 4: Listen live here
BBC World Service - Listen live here.

Slightly more randomly...
WFMU - An enthusiastic radio station from New Jersey which broadcasts from an impressively eclectic playlist of music.
Triple J - Australian station that specialises in new and live music.
FIP: Eccentric French radio!
KCRW: If you like things Californian...

Let us know if you find any others worth sharing.

History in Decline? (Plus a quiz!)

Niall Ferguson has written a grumpy article criticising a recent Ofsted report which had stated that there was much that was "good and outstanding" about the way History is taught in this country. He has responded by arguing that it is hard to make this case if increasing numbers of schools are reducing the time they spend teaching the subject and fewer candidates are taking the subject at GCSE and A-Level. He also follows the "Daily Mail" route by expressing his concern for the "widespread historical ignorance among school leavers", with evidence for example from a recent survey suggesting 89% of history undergraduates could not name a 19th century Prime Minister. You can test your ignorance yourself with this quiz - although Nonsuch HP is proud to say that a Year 12 History class today scored an impressive 9 out of 10. Ferguson's particular criticism is over the "smorgasbord" of subjects taught in a seemingly "random" order which do not provide a true sense of chronology. The "long arc of time" has been replaced by "odds and sods" which do not allow students to place important events and developments in their proper context.

What is your opinion? Is he right? Is History in crisis? And if so - what should we do about it? (274 people have already added their comments to his article)

PS: Don't forget to try out that History quiz!

Battle of Marston Moor - Today!

A quick reminder that the Battle of Marston Moor will be recreated at lunchtime. There will be a quick overview of the battle in Room 105 at 1.15 and then we will go out to the front field. Everyone is welcome.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Essay competition

Thinking of going to Oxford or Cambridge to study History or Politics? This essay competition might be for you. Trinity College is holding two competitions, one for History and for Politics and International Studies. For both competitions, you need to write an essay of between 2,000 and 4,000 words from a list of essay questions. The questions themselves are good to practise for possible interviews for any university. The deadline for the History one is 10 May and for the Politics, it is the 31 May. The prize is £600 to be split equally between yourself and the school and of course fantastic for your personal statement! So, nothing to lose - get writing!

From Our Own Correspondent

The BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent" has always been an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding about the culture, politics and society of countries around the world. For example,recent articles have included subjects such as the Russian space programme, the obsession with guns in the USA (written by Justin Webb), and the effects of the foreign media on the North African revolutions, or the use of strange nicknames in the Philippines (recommended!). You can find an archive of all the articles here, and listen to the latest episode or download it as a podcast.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Causes of the First World War (By Horrible Histories)

Here's a useful summary of the causes of the First World War from Horrible Histories.

If you would like to read about them in more depth, try here or here.

The AV Debate

Here is a report from our correspondent, VD, who attended a special meeting on the AV debate this week. Many thanks!

Should we say yes to AV? The question of changing to the alternative vote will be one of the most controversial topics in politics right now, as it is the first time the electorate will be able to decide on how they should vote. On March 17th, LSE hosted a lecture based on this issue, chaired by Simon Hix. The main reasons supporting AV were:

  • Under the current system, MPs can get a job from just 1 vote in 3, meaning that two thirds of their constituency voted against them.
  • Now that there are 6 to 7 party systems in every region, using first-past-the-post (FPTP) will lead to tactical voting, as votes would be wasted if not used on the two main parties.
  • People believe that it will be advantageous to extremist parties, but the BNP is in fact against AV. This is because they are not a mainstream party, and research showed that they would have gained no seats in the 2010 election under AV.

Reasons for supporting FPTP were as follows:

  • Voters do not like FPTP, but they are confusing AV with proportional representation (PR). They should not vote for an electoral system because it is the only available alternative (as this is what happened in the coalition agreement; Clegg accepted the only electoral reform offer given to him).
  • 'Safe seats' can still remain the same under AV, as they will still have the majority of the electorate’s votes.
  • Second preference votes should not be treated the same as someone's 1st vote - as this is not equal.

It is likely that this debate will only get stronger as we come closer to May 5th. While AV is a reasonable solution to FPTP's flaws, it is not the best option, and once changing the system, voters will only want more change, leading to a slippery slope of electoral reform. So should AV really be our new electoral system? May 5th shall reveal what the public really thinks about it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Britain Explained (By Americans)

This is quite an interesting video attempting to explain to Americans the relationship between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and what makes up "The United Kingdom". It starts off simply enough but begins to get quite complicated once you start adding Jersey, Guernsey, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar! If you would like a further venn diagram (!) to explain this click here.

Battle of Marston Moor

A reenactment of the Battle of Marston Moor will take place at lunchtime on Tuesday 29 March. All are welcome to attend! Come to Room 105 for a briefing and then we will head out onto the front field. Hopefully the weather will be as sunny as it is at the moment.

For more info on the battle, click here (Wikipedia) and here (Civil War history site).

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Protests Timeline

Here is a very helpful timeline from the Guardian allowing you to keep track of the protest movement across the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with the death of Mohammed Bouazzi in Tunisia on 17 December. The vegetable seller set fire to himself after police confiscated his stall. The subsequent riots, spread by social networking sites, led to the overthrow of the Tunisian government and encouraged other groups to protest across the region.

Historians object to AV

Last week a group of historians wrote a letter to the Times raising their objections to the Alternative Vote, which will be considered in a referendum on 5 May. Amongst them are David Starkey, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Beevor, John Guy, Alison Weir and Chris Skidmore (the last two of whom have visited Nonsuch in the last few years). Their objection is that throughout British history people have struggled to gain the right to suffrage and establish the principle of one vote for each man or woman. They believe that AV weakens the equality of everyone's vote and leads to (In the words of Winston Churchill) "the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates". You can see the full text of the letter here.

Here is Chris Skidmore's longer explanation, and here is an alternative point of view. Hopi Sen's blog post also objects, and includes the interesting fact that until 1950, several Westminster seats were given to universities, where graduates of them were able to vote for a second time, using the single transferable vote system.

What's your opinion of AV? Please let us know.

PS: If you would like to see how the Daily Mail's reaction, click here.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Is the West History?

This is the engaging question at the heart of Niall Ferguson's question in his new series 'Civilisation'. Episode 3 was aired on Sunday night and asked why it was that North America succeeded and South America lagged behind in the dominant civilisation stakes. It concentrates on property and links North America's success to the American Revolution and its basing their political system on a property-owning democracy. Year 12 History students would find this link interesting in the context of their studies. Watch it on Channel 4OD and tell us what you think.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Famous First Words

Today is the fifth anniversary of the first Twitter Tweet. Not the most momentous of anniversaries perhaps but it is still impressive to see how much progress Twitter has made in such a short space of time. If you were wondering what the first tweet was, it was "just setting up my twttr", whilst the first words mentioned on YouTube were, "Alright, so here we are in front of the elephants." (At the time the founder of YouTube was standing in front of an elephant at San Diego zoo.)

There are more of these in this BBC article, including "Come here Mr Watson, I want to see you" (First telephone message, 1876 - Mr Watson was Alexander Bell's assistant), and "Merry Christmas" (First text message, 1992). Can you remember your first text / email / phone call?

Jon Davis

Dr Jon Davis will be speaking in the library during Tuesday lunchtime about Tony Blair and his Premiership, which he has researched extensively for his new book. Dr Davis teaches political history at Queen Mary University and previously wrote "Prime Ministers and Whitehall", and exploration of the relationship between Prime Ministers and the Civil Service. He has also worked closely with the influential political historian and writer, Peter Hennessy.

Pressure Groups

Year 12 politics students have been researching pressure groups in the UK. This is the place to add brief comments about the chosen pressure group, their main areas of interest, operating methods, and effectiveness. Please complete this by Friday 25 March

This Wikipedia article has a list of a few UK pressure groups to choose from, although the list is by no means complete. There is a useful diagram here, Tutor2U has plenty of good info here, and there are some BBC clips here.

English Civil War Websites

As quite a few classes are currently researching the English Civil War, here are a few useful links that may be of help:
Easynet (Good for weapons and battles)
History on the Net
BBC More from the BBC
Spartacus (Lots of stuff here)
National Archives The British Civil War (Super Detailed)

If you find anything else of interest, please leave a comment and a web address!

Lenin Assassination Plot

This fascinating BBC article investigates the attempted assassination of Lenin in 1918 by Fanya Kaplan and accusations that it had been coordinated by Robert Lockhart, a British agent. He had been sent to Russia to persuade the new Bolshevik government to continue fighting the First World War alongside its Triple Entente allies, but when it signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, making peace with Germany, Lockhart turned his attention to ways to destabilise the government. He was arrested by the Cheka but denied all involvement, and was later freed in exchange for a Russian spy. Lockhart instead suggested that responsibility should rest with Sidney Reilly, a flamboyant Russian who worked a freelancer for the British Secret Service but who had increasingly taken matters into his own hands. However, the historian Robert Service believes that Lockhart might have been using Reilly as a distraction, to cover up much deeper involvement of the British government in the assassination of a head of state. All documents relating to this are still kept secret, suggesting there is still a lot of sensitivity over this issue. More will be revealed over the controversy in a Radio 4 programme tonight, which will be available on iPlayer soon after.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Michael Cockerell documentary

Michael Cockerell has made another documentary series. Always informed and interesting with high profile interviews, Cockerell's documentaries are worth watching. The power of the Civil Service is always very difficult to ascertain so this series is a welcome one. See here for the BBC clip introducing some of the programme's interviews and topics, in this case the role of Cobra, the civil contingencies committee, and here for BBC Four's site.
It starts tomorrow night at 9pm.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Back home

Our ferry back to Dover was on time so our group of now very tired historians boarded the coach for the last time for a trip back to Nonsuch. A very big thank you to Mr Coy for organising such an excellent trip!

Pool of Peace

Following a pleasant look around the Flanders Field museum and some free time in Ypres for lunch and shopping for chocolates, our historians visited the Pool of Peace, the remains of one of the huge bomb craters blown after mines were dug by the allies under the German lines. The sounds of this and the 18 other simultaneous explosions could be hard as far away as London.

We are almost at the end of our tour. A quick stop at our final cemetery before we head back to Calais for our ferry.

Tynecot Cemetery

As a stark contrast to the German cemetery at Langemark, our next stop was Tynecot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. Many of our historians came armed with information about soldiers they had researched before the trip and found names or graves of relatives or men who shared the same surname. Another very moving experience.

Langemark Cemetery

Following a restful night and hearty breakfast our group started the day with a very sobering visit to the German cemetery at Langemark. The Battle of Langemark saw the deaths of thousands of young Germans, many of whom would be buried in the mass grave at the cemetery. A very sad and poignant place.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Menin Gate Ceremony

Our group this evening attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate where two Nonsuch students participated by laying a wreath. The monument itself looked splendid when lit as you can see from the above. A serious, but fitting, end to our day.

Sanctuary Wood

A quick lunch in Ypres followed by a visit to Sanctuary Wood where our historians donned their Wellington boots and headed into some very muddy WW1 trenches and tunnels.


Arrived at Ypres following a very smooth Channel crossing. A brisk orientation walk through the town is planned before lunch before heading to the battlefields themselves. Our historians have already spotted some of the WW1 cemeteries and railway lines.

Battlefields Trip

Welcome to the Y10 Battlefields trip updates. 50 intrepid and excited historians plus 5 rather bleary eyed teachers met at 5am and set off on our adventure. A lovely view of the sun rising over Rochester an early highlight of our trip.
More from the trip once we get to Belgium.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

International Women's Day

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. First celebrated in 1911, it was used as a rallying cry for the women's suffrage movement and then pivotally for reform during the First World War. Nowhere was this more important than in Russia where the women's protests in 1917 led to the fall of the Tsar. It is now a national holiday in Russia. See here for more information from the official site for the Day. Read here about its history from the UN's perspective.
Michelle Obama was celebrating the day as well yesterday with a press conference at the White House. It is a significant world celebration and event but there is not much about it in Britain. Should this change?
Here is one group's attempt to higher the profile of women's battle for equality starring Daniel Craig and Judi Dench - what do you think?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

EHIC Cards and Weather Update

For those going on the Belgium trip who still do not have an EHIC card, here is the website where you can apply for one and find out further information. Your parents will need to apply for you, quoting their National Insurance number.

To keep an eye on the weather, click here for a detailed weather forecast for Ypres. Below is the BBC 5 day forecast for Lille which, although in France, is the nearest weather station it has for Ypres.

Justin Webb Visit

An exciting visit today from Justin Webb, the presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4. He started working for the BBC in 1984 and has done a variety of different jobs since then from Breakfast News to the European Correspondent to (most importantly for A2 Politics students) the BBC's Chief Washington Correspondent from 2001. He remained in the USA until 2009 when he started working for the Today programme.
Come along to the Library at 1.15pm to hear his talk and ask him questions.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Electoral results

An election and referendum result in one day! The Barnsley Central By-election was won by Labour with 61% of the vote, up from 50% at the General Election 2010. The Liberal Democrats were pushed into sixth place which will obviously leave Nick Clegg with some questions from his party. Two different interpretations of the results: one from the Guardian lauding the success of the Labour Party and one from the Telegraph delighting in the Liberal Democrats' humiliation.
The Welsh Referendum on whether to devolve further powers to the Assembly was successful with 63% voting yes. This will mean that the Assembly has direct law-making powers in twenty areas including health and education. See the BBC's site for more information and for what it might mean for the future of the Welsh Assembly.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

King John on Film

A new film about King John, "Ironclad", will be released on Friday. It is of particular interest to Nonsuch students as it focuses on the Siege of Rochester Castle, which took place after John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. Early reviews suggest that this won't win many Oscars next year, but that the Siege itself is quite exciting, and that Paul Giamatti puts in an enjoyable performance as the devious monarch. This BBC article wonders why John is so often portrayed as a villain, and why he has such a reputation as a poor king. Some contemporary chroniclers such as Matthew Paris and Roger Wendover wrote at length about various acts of cruelty he was said to have performed, but, as most Year 7s will know, these were often full of inaccuracies. The Tudors were more sympathetic to John as was involved in a dispute with the Pope, which obviously would have been well received following the break with Rome. The popular view of John, and in particular his connection with the Robin Hood stories, comes from 19th Century. His chaotic personal life was viewed as morally dubious by the Victorians, and the Whig view of History identified the signing of the Magna Carta as a crucial moment in England's political development, pushing the barons forward as heroes against John's repressive rule.

Whatever the film might say, John eventually recaptured Rochester Castle in November 1215 (bringing down one of the towers after tunnelling under it and then setting fire to the wooden supports with the fat of 30 pigs) and looked set to complete the rebelling barons completely. However, he failed to seize the opportunity and then, after a "fit of over-indulgence", died of dysentry in October 1216. His son Henry III was declared King and the Magna Carta reissued. His reign was over, but his reputation for incompetence and cruelty had been sealed.

You can read more about King John here, and about other incompetent Kings here. For the Disney interpretation of John, look here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A History of Protest Songs

Radio 4's Front Row had a discussion tonight about the importance of protest songs, including a discussion about how songs had been written and performed by protesters in Cairo's Tahir Square and downloaded onto YouTube - you can see some examples here and here. It included a contribution from Dorian Lynskey, who has written "33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs", which discusses 33 of the most influential songs, from Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" through to Green Day's "American Idiot". You can see the whole list here and also see his blog where he discusses other influential songs, usually supported by YouTube clips. If you have Spotify, you can download a playlist of 50 of them here.Which songs or musicians do you think have had an important part to play in encouraging protest and political change? Do let us know.

STV and the Irish Election

This week's Irish elections look set to result in a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour, with Fine Gael's Enda Kenny appointed as the new Taoiseach. It is of particular interest to Nonsuch HP readers as it is an example of how the Single Transferable Vote system works on a national scale. The elections have seen the previous ruling party, Fianna Fáil, resoundingly defeated over their handling of the economic crisis. Not all the results are yet in due to the need to have several recounts within each constituency, as the votes are transferred until sufficient candidates have met their quota. You can read a good explanation of how the system works here, and get the latest statistics on the Irish Elections here, courtesy of the Irish Times.