Monday, 8 December 2008

Morrill, Microwave History & the debate over education

by Derry Nairn

Professor John Morrill (pictured) was interviewed this year by the Institute of Historical Research's Making History project about the current state of the discipline. Among topics that included his personal biography and depictions of Cromwell, Morrill commented that
Now [in history teaching] there’s far less encouragement to read around... it’s what I call microwave history. Everything’s pre-packaged, student are given specific things to read and specific tasks to perform. The exam papers are far more prescribed – they know with much more certainty what they will be examined on.
A related controversy has emerged this morning over a new government study which proposes radical changes to the way in which history is taught in the English curriculum.

Apparently, the government is considering recommendations to teach history alongside geography and religious studies in 'cross-curricular themed classes' (The Guardian). More stress will be lain on the teaching of technology, with skills like 'podcasts and PowerPoint' being taught at primary level, as reported by the Times.

These latest reports reflect a general anxiety expressed in the media about the way children are educated about shared identities, history and heritage. A typical such article in today's Telegraph reports on how a new children's dictionary has 'eliminated words associated with Christianity and British history'.

A full recording and transcript of the Making History interview with Prof John Morrill is available here. The accessible interview section also includes excellent, full-length interviews with such prominent names as Ian Kershaw, Eric Hobsbawm and David Cannadine. You can read a 1982 History Today article by Morrill on historiography of the English Civil War here.

Looking forward, History Today's February 2009 issue has a feature on ways in which today's educational landscape is being changed by the progressive and holistic ideas of, among others, Rousseau, Steiner and Montessori. The author, Richard Wallis, is a lecturer in the history of education at the Froebel College, University of Roehampton.

Our homepage will also feature debate on the topic in the coming months.

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