What is History A Level about?
History A Level encourages you to understand and think intelligently about aspects of modern history. It involves much more than just learning vast amounts of factual information. Of course, there is a lot to learn and you will immediately notice in how much greater detail a topic is covered than at GCSE level. However, what most students find most rewarding in History is the attempt to understand, evaluate and analyse the past. Questions at AS/A level will never just ask you to recount what happened. They are designed to make you think critically about the material and to formulate your own assessments. You will, for example, learn to make judgements about the policies of individual leaders and nations, or to analyse the causes of a particular event and evaluate the importance of different factors. Then you will have to write a well-organised and clearly explained essay giving your answer.
Those who have studied History at GCSE will also know that part of the task is to learn how to use the types of evidence that 'real' historians use in researching a topic. Part of your A level course will involve analysing and evaluating primary source material and using it to add to your understanding of a subject.
What does the course consist of?
The course focuses on modern European, American and British History. It provides a varied coverage of many of the most important and interesting aspects of recent history and allows students to study examples of different types of nation-states (democracies, dictatorships; Fascist and Communist regimes), as well as surveying key aspects of international relations and warfare.
In the first year (AS) we study two units, which are examined at the end of the lower sixth.
Germany, 1933 to 1963. This involves a study of the workings of the Nazi state (for example, how did Hitler's personal dictatorship in practice govern Germany? Were the Nazis genuinely popular, or did they rely on coercion? How successful were their social policies? And why and how did the Final Solution evolve?). The topic continues with a study of post-war Germany, during the years of division between the democratic West Germany and communist East Germany, the differing ways in which each state was structured and comparing and evaluating their policies and success. In the exam, you will analyse and evaluate primary sources, as well as debate a key theme from within the subject area.
British Foreign and Imperial Policy, 1945-1990. This topic is concerned with how Britain has adjusted to its changing role (no longer as a superpower) since World War Two. It looks at such areas as: the role played by Britain in the Cold War; the end of the British Empire; the development of Britain’s relations with the European Community; and how Labour and Conservative governments have endeavoured to maintain Britain's influence in the world. This theme is examined by two 45 minute essays.
In the upper sixth (A2) two further themes are studied.
Russian history, 1855-1964. Here, you look at a very traditional society – economically undeveloped and governed by a hereditary dynasty of Tsars – and compare it with the Communist regimes which replaced it from 1917. This unit looks at the whole period thematically, to gain a perspective on aspects of life that changed, along with those that remained much the same. e.g. Was Tsarist Russia really so different from that of the Communists? Who was more or less successful in solving Russia's economic problems? Why has dictatorship been so much more prevalent than democracy in Russia? What impact did wars have on changing Russia?
USA, 1919-41. This involves two coursework assignments (2,000 words each) based on aspects of American history in the inter-war years. These focus on explaining and interpreting key features of life in America at this time. For example, why did a prosperous, liberal and modernising society experiment with a law prohibiting alcohol? ... and why was the law abandoned 13 years later? Why did the economy boom in the 1920s, yet crash so suddenly into the Great Depression after 1929? How successful was Roosevelt's New Deal in extracting America from depression? Why did America revert to a policy of isolation after World War One, yet become involved again in World War Two?
A very popular 'perk' of studying History at d'Overbroeck's is the opportunity to take part in trips each February half-term. We alternate between a short visit to Berlin one year and a more ambitious trip (either to Moscow/St Petersburg or to Washington/New York) the next.
Whom does the subject suit?
Most people who choose History at A level do so first and foremost because they find the subject-matter interesting. This is very important, as you will struggle to work hard over one or two years if you do not enjoy the material you are studying. It goes particularly well with subjects such as Politics and Economics and many take History alongside English or Modern Languages. You need to be able to master a lot of factual information quickly and accurately; to use books effectively to pick out relevant information and to understand relatively academic language; to analyse, evaluate and explain events and problems; and develop sufficient linguistic skills to write a clear and logical essay.
From what has just been said, you should be able to get a feel for the type of work that the A level will involve. If you rarely read a book and hate writing essays, then it is probably not the A level for you. However, if you have a natural interest in society around you and are interested in current affairs, then you will almost certainly enjoy studying History. If reading, acquiring knowledge about societies in the past, discussion, playing with ideas and arguments, and analytical writing appeal to you, then you will almost certainly love studying History. It is not essential to have studied it for GCSE, but success in English GCSE may well be a good guide as to your likely aptitude for the subject.
Who will teach me?
History is taught in groups of up to ten students and has a very good track record. The teaching staff are:
Alastair Barnett: Head of History, as well as a Director of Studies and the Academic Co-ordinator at d'Overbroeck's. Alastair has a first from Oxford University and has been a senior examiner in A level History for nearly twenty years.
Andrew Latcham: Andrew joined d'Overbroeck's at the start of 2008, but has many years of teaching experience behind him. Hailing from California, Andrew has enjoyed a varied career, teaching in schools and universities in both the UK and the USA. His specialisms include 20th century Russian, US and British history.
Martin Winstone: Martin has taught A Level History and Politics at d’Overbroeck’s for over 15 years and brings a wealth of expertise and specialist knowledge, including many years of A Level examining. Martin gained a first and a PhD from Oxford University and is author of a recently published work on Holocaust Sites in Europe. He also works part-time for the Holocaust Education Trust.
What might the subject lead onto?
There are some A levels that obviously lead to a particular course at university or even to a specific career. However, most A levels, History included, are essentially non-vocational. Of course, if you know that History is your great interest and that you may well wish to pursue it at university level and maybe beyond, then it will clearly be one of your A levels. However, the skills used in History are relevant to a much wider range of subjects and vocations and it is a good A level to consider taking if you are interested in pursuing any Humanities-based degree at university. It is perhaps the best A level to take if you are thinking of studying Law at university. It is widely recognised that A level History remains an academically demanding subject with high prestige. Universities and employers know that someone who has been successful in the study of History should have acquired a range of important skills.