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 world 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; 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.
China 1946-76: the Impact of Chairman Mao
This unit examines a key period in the emergence of China as one of the world’s leading nations in the twentieth century. Many British (and international) students know little about this rising power, but we think they should! The unit explores a controversial and fascinating era in Chinese history, raising questions such as: how and why did China become a Communist nation by 1949? How successful was the Great Leap Forward in modernising the Chinese economy? Why did Mao launch a ‘Cultural Revolution and with what consequences? How should we view Mao: modernising genius or bloody tyrant? The exam is based on a mixture of structured essays, and source analysis.
Tsarist Russia, 1855-1917
In this unit, we examine the final decades of Tsarist Russia, culminating in the Revolutions of 1917. We study the nature of a traditional hereditary monarchy and the struggles that the last three Tsars had in seeking to modernise Russia’s backward economy and society, while trying also to protect their own authority. We look at the rise of revolutionary opposition groups and their treatment by the Tsars; Russia’s belated attempts to modernise both the countryside (emancipation of the serfs) and industry; and the final downfall of the Romanov dynasty in the era of Nicholas II, Rasputin and the First World War. The unit is examined by two structured essay questions.
In the upper sixth (A2) two further themes are studied.
The Making of Modern Britain, 1951-2007
This is our main study of British history in the A Level course and we focus on modern politics, economy and society since World War Two. The unit covers all the major political leaders of the era, notably Thatcher and Blair, as well as examining the fluctuating fortunes of the British economy, Britain’s contentious relationship with Europe and the radical social changes of the 1960s and beyond. The unit is examined by two full length essays.
The USA in the twentieth century
This is a coursework unit. Students are taught a short, overview history of the USA in the twentieth century. They then have the freedom to select a theme from the period (e.g. civil rights; America’s role in the world; growth of the economy; evolution of party politics etc.) and independently research an essay question on the theme, resulting in a 3,500 word coursework essay. A very popular 'perk' of studying History at d'Overbroeck's is the opportunity to take part in trips each February half-term. In the past our visits have included Russia (Moscow and St Petersburg), the USA (Washington and New York) and Berlin. We are hoping to be able to arrange a trip to China in the near future.
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.
Rob Pollard. Rob is also an Oxford History graduate, who joined d’Overbroeck’s in 2012 and teaches across the secondary age range, including both History and Politics at A Level. Having spent a year teaching English in China, he is very excited to have the opportunity to teach about this country.
Siobhan Coskeran is the most recent addition to the department, joining d’Overbroeck’s at the start of 2013, having recently graduated in History from Cambridge University. She specialises in teaching Russian history, but her specialisms span widely across modern history and politics.
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.