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History

History

E.H Carr posed the question “What is History?” in the title of his seminal book, published in 1961. One of his definitions conceptualised History as an ‘unending dialogue between the past and the present.’ Historians examine facts and extract coherent narratives from sources that might explain the decisions and processes which have led to modern-day society. Carr argued that History was inherently a problem-solving discipline. He further argued that historians should embrace the fact that the study of the past can illuminate the present.

Perhaps a more pertinent question to you is, “what is history for?” In short, the world we live in is incomprehensible without an understanding of the past. This is evidenced by the fact that legislatures and those in power often insist that history curriculums reflect a particular version of the past. Therefore, our conceptions of the past affect how we engage with the present and how we might envision the future. Historians think about the economy, politics and power, cultural ideas, intellectual life, war and society, the environment, and many other themes that explore the human condition throughout time.

Studying History allows students to explore the centuries of human experimentation, innovation, triumphs and tragedies that have shaped the world we live in today. The study of history highlights that little is ‘inevitable’ about our lives; what we know today is the direct result of the choices, challenges, and contingencies that past generations have faced. With this in mind, the importance of studying history is easily recognizable.

History Course

History's chronological breadth, geographical range, and topical diversity affords students great flexibility in this subject.

History Exam Tips

Exam papers include a mixture of essay writing and source analysis. To succeed at source analysis, students will need to reference the origins, purpose, and content of individual sources to evaluate their advantages and limitations in relation to their given topic of study. To succeed at the essay writing component, students should avoid sweeping generalisations, lack of detail, or too much narration. A good essay will have a strong focus on the question at hand, accurate and relevant knowledge, and a critical analysis of this evidence to answer the question.

Periods of History

You will have the opportunity to study various topics within the Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern periods.

Historians use CE as an abbreviation for the ‘common’ or ‘current’ era, whereas BCE is an abbreviation for ‘before the common (or current) era.’ Periodisation might also come in the form of BC - ‘Before Christ’, or AD, which stands for Anno Domini, Latin for ‘the year of our lord.’ The latter has increased in use by historians, as a means of promoting religious neutrality in History.

Ancient ( 6,000 BCE - 650 CE)

Ancient history refers to the period covering the discovery of the earliest written records of human activity until the fall of major empires and civilizations. Included are the Western Roman Empire (the Mediterranean), the Han dynasty (China), and the Gupta Empire (India).

Medieval ( 476 CE - 1500 CE)

Medieval History refers to a period of history that follows the fall of Rome in 476 CE until the middle of the European Renaissance at the turn of the 16th century.

Early Modern (1500 CE - 1800 CE)

The Early Modern period directly follows the medieval period and is closely related to fundamental global changes in the 15th and 16th centuries. This era saw foundational scientific advancements, the rapid spread of ideas due to the invention of the printing press, a decline of the feudal system, the exploration of the Americas, and the emergence of new theological ideas. The end of the early modern period is associated with the onset of two revolutions: the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the Industrial Revolution.

Modern (1800 CE - Present )

The Modern period follows events from the late-eighteenth century until the present day. This period is often characterised by the heightened importance of science and technology, the demise of European empires, the transition to democracy, urbanization, civil rights, decolonisation and the ideological battle between capitalism and socialism.

Periodisation, the division of time into specific eras, is a heavily debated topic in History. Historians continue to produce varying opinions on what constitutes the start and the end of a period. As a budding historian, what do you think marks the end of a historical period ?

Approaches in History

Students will learn that history is an interpretative field. There are many legitimate approaches to understanding the past and often the most balanced conception of the past requires us to view it from different perspectives.

Common thematic approaches to the study of history include :

  • Social history

  • Military history

  • Diplomatic history

  • Economic history

  • Environmental history

  • Intellectual history

  • Cultural history

  • Gender history (formerly known as Women’s history)

  • Subaltern studies

  • Linguistic history

  • Ethnohistory

  • Comparative history

  • Marxist history

History topics and learning objectives

The following is an overview of some topics that will be covered in the Studysmarter structure.

The Crusades

The Crusades were a series of religiously motivated campaigns to recapture the Holy Lands of the Middle East. They were initiated by the Catholic Church, although their religious motivations became increasingly entangled with the desire to achieve economic and political power in the East. This topic will evaluate the origins of the Crusades, the importance of religion, and how foreign relations between the Byzantine Empire, Outremer, and the Latin West evolved over the 11th and 12th century.

You will learn about the First Crusade (1071-1099) and the internal problems of the Byzantine Empire. You will then study the Second Crusade (1099-1149) and gain an overview of the Islamic response to the Crusader states. Later in the syllabus, the focus will turn to the Muslim counter-crusade and the socio-cultural context of the Crusader states between 1149-1187. The topic will finish with the Third and Fourth Crusades and ask you to consider the legacy of the Crusades in different regions.

Early Modern Spain

This topic will begin with giving you an overview of the social, economic, political, and religious context of Spain in 1469. Understanding the difficulty that Spain experienced during this time is important in tracing its transition into a unified state and eventually Spain’s establishment as a world power. When considering the period between 1516-1556, you will learn about the expansion of the Spanish empire and its conquistadors, its conciliar government, and the impact on foreign relations with European nations.

Following this, students will look at the era that historians term Spain’s ‘golden age’ under Philip II. You will explore the changing relationship between religion and society, the impact of intellectual movements, and Spain’s internal conflicts.

The Tudors

This topic gives an overview of England under the House of Tudor, an English royal dynasty of Welsh origin which ruled from 1485 to 1603. You will trace the rule of Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I against the backdrop of a rapidly changing English society. Articles in this topic will investigate the power of ideology and theology. You will learn about the conflict over religious systems and the development of new ideas that flourished during the English Renaissance. This period also marks the beginning of England’s naval prowess following Henry VIII’s creation of the New Navy.

The Birth of the USA

This topic will explore the American Revolution, a momentous period of radical change that led to the creation of the United States of America. You will explore the context of colonial North America; the Thirteen Colonies, America’s struggle with France, and the economic state of Britain in 1763. As we venture deeper into this topic, you will explore the causes of the American Revolution and the ideologies associated with it, the formation of the republic and the establishment of the early American political system.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution was a momentous occasion in European and Global history. The revolution began in 1789 and ended with Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power. There was widespread discontent against the monarchy, its poor economic policies and its reinforcement of an oppressive social hierarchy. Revolutionary groups such as the Jacobins and the Sans-Culottes revolted against the absolute monarchy of King Louis XIV and the feudal system which had oppressed them, redesigning their country’s politics to meet the needs of the people.

You will explore the causes of the French Revolution such as the age of enlightenment and its ideologies, the progress of the reign of terror, and the rise of Napoleon and his impact on France and Europe.

Tsarist and Communist Russia

This topic will cover the nature of Russia’s economic, political, and social life from 1855-1964. Throughout the topic, you will learn about the reign of Russia’s last three Tsars: Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II. You will also learn about one of the most significant events of the twentieth century: the Russian Revolution of 1917 which is a socio-political upheaval of the oppressive structures that led to the creation of Europe’s first communist state. It is not an understatement that this period marked enormous changes for the rest of the world.

Within communist Russia, a new philosophy and worldview arose that shaped the course of twentieth and twenty-first-century world history. You will learn about these changes that were primarily led by Lenin and Stalin. Lastly, you will learn about Khrushchev’s inheritance of an authoritarian state created by Stalin and how Khrushchev ultimately fell from power.

Emergence of the USA as a superpower

Between 1865 and 1975, the USA went through a period of rapid transformation. In 1865, America was an isolationist war-torn nation divided over slavery. However, by 1975, the USA was the dominant world authority. In this topic you will look at the key developments of each era of US history throughout this period. You will assess the successes and failures of key individuals.

This topic touches on many themes, ideas and events such as :

  • The Era of Reconstruction

  • The Gilded age

  • Laissez-faire economics and the rise of large corporations.

  • Populism

  • Progressivism

  • The Great Migration

  • The Jim Crow Era

  • The Jazz Age

  • Post World War II America

  • McCarthyism and the Cold War

  • Civil Rights

  • The rise of American counterculture

Building a German Nation

This topic will introduce you to the political, economic and social events involved in the transition from Imperial Germany to a unified democratic state. You will learn about how Germany dealt with the political instability and extremism that arose in the early years to arrive at what is known as the ‘Golden Age of the Weimar Republic, 1924-1928. Then, you will follow the Weimar Republic to its collapse in 1933. Along the way, various articles will examine the political developments, reactions to democracy, cultural movements, and economic difficulties the republic faced.

The Nazi regime was established in January of 1933. They rapidly and forcefully established a single-party authoritarian state that would control Germany for the next twelve years. You will learn about Hitler’s consolidation of power, how his dictatorship impacted the lives of ordinary Germans, and the methods that the Nazis employed to maintain their power. This topic will also cover the global events which led to the division of East and West Germany and conclude with a series of articles that analyse the journey towards German reunification in the twentieth century.

The Cold War

The Cold War refers to the state of tension and the numerous proxy wars between the USA and the U.S.S.R from the end of the Second World War in 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Broadly, you will explore the role of ideology, economic interests, fear, and aggression in shaping the geopolitics of the era. The events of the Cold War continue to shape the way that foreign policy decisions are made today.

You will cover the debates surrounding the origins of the Cold War, and explore how conflicting ideologies developed and manifested into the breakdown of the Grand Alliance, hostility, and conflict over Germany. You will then explore how the Cold War became a global phenomenon as the two superpowers involved themselves in conflicts around the globe. You will also evaluate the differences in the foreign policy of individual U.S Presidents and Soviet leaders. Lastly, you will gain an understanding of how the Cold War came to an end.

Modern Britain

As the title of this topic suggests, you will address the events, ideas, and people that have contributed to the creation of modern Britain. In particular, you will focus on Britain’s reconstruction of society post-World War II. You will look at the various efforts made to establish stability and evaluate the policies of people who played a key role in this transition. Finally, you will also discuss British politics post-1945. Events such as the decline of the British empire, mass immigration, gender politics,the fall of consensus politics, and the resistance against the class establishment are examples of events that spearheaded Britain into the 21st century.

What skills will I gain?

The study of history will develop your intellectual, analytical, and rhetorical abilities. History requires you to explore the relationship between cause and consequence and craft nuanced explanations and arguments. These actions build skills that have practical everyday applications.

As a result of studying History, students will :

  • Gain strong analytical skills while considering the usefulness and application of textual, oral and visual sources and assessing the arguments that other historians have made from them.

  • Gain independent research skills that allow them to frame concepts and write persuasively.

  • Gain communication skills by writing essays that are concise, clear, and original.

  • Learn to manage their time effectively in order to cover a broad and detailed syllabus.

What careers can I consider after studying history?

Studying history is an excellent way to prepare for a wide field of careers, from Law, Governance, Finance, Public policy, Social work, International Development, Journalism, Teaching, Academia, and much more.

How can StudySmarter help me study for History exams and coursework?

History Notes

Here at StudySmarter, our subject experts have created in-depth articles for each of the most popular A-Level topics. Within these articles, you will find all of the factual information necessary to write good essays and an overview of the historiographic debate surrounding different topics.

History Revision

The StudySmarter platform incorporates active recall and spaced repetition, techniques that have been proven to increase your capacity at retaining information for a longer period. Our aim is to help you succeed and fulfil your academic goals. Use our revision guides, quizzes, and notes to ace your exams/quizzes and keep yourself motivated. Alternatively, you can create flashcards and notes to tailor your learning needs and keep yourself accountable with weekly goals.

Tips for parents - What advantage does the app offer my child when studying History?

StudySmarter is a free learning platform, which allows students to create and share revision materials. Students can also select from a range of revision tools created by our subject experts, from flashcards to summaries to FAQS.

The app offers a curated learning plan that tracks your child’s progress and motivates them with badges and trophies.

Here are the advantages of using StudySmarter at a glance:

  • High-quality learning content

  • FREE summaries and exercises.

  • Collaborative study.

  • Loads of subjects to choose from.

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