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Welsh History Review


Vol. 18, nos. 1-4 1996-97

Wales and Britain in the Medieval world, c1000-1500/Cymru a Phrydain yn y byd canoloesol tua 1000-1500. Book review.

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Wales AND BRITAIN IN THE MEDIEVAL WORLD, c. 000-1500. Also available in
a Welsh language edition, Cymru A PHRYDAIN YN Y BYD CANOLOESOL TUA
1000-1500. By Hefin Mathias. Hodder and Stoughton, 1995. Pp. 64. £ 5.99.
The publication of Hefin Mathias's admirable contribution to the 'Focus
on Welsh History' series completes the Hodder and Stoughton trilogy
whose first fruit was R. K. Turvey's Wales and Britain in the Early Modern
World, c. 1500-c. 1760, in 1995, followed by Davies Evans's Wales in
Industrial Britain, C.1760-C.1914, early in 1996. Specifically developed to
meet the requirements of the revised National Curriculum History Order
for Wales, the 'Focus on Welsh History' series is aimed at the 11-14 age-
group, providing a fresh approach to textbook writing using the techniques
that have proved successful at Key Stage 3 teaching. The books were
commissioned by the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales,
which also provided financial support towards the cost of publication. This
fact has led to criticism from some senior educationalists, such as the
normally sober Professor John Fines, president of the Historical
Association, who was quoted as saying that 'if teachers relied on these
books, anything could happen'. Others have accused the CAAW of
introducing 'an authorised version of history'. There can be few school
history textbooks whose official launch has been received by the
educational and national press with headlines 'Welsh history at risk of state
control' or 'Curriculum Warning: warped sense of culture risk from history
lessons'. Fortunately, the majority of teachers will judge the books on the
merit of their content, the accompanying activities and exercises and avoid
the almost hysterical but ultimately sterile debate regarding their
provenance and 'true' purpose.
This is a book that has been eagerly awaited during its twelve months or
more of gestation. It will not disappoint. Its author brings all his experience
of many years' teaching to bear on a subject that, if done well, is almost
certainly guaranteed to excite and enthuse its readership. This is of critical
importance for a subject which, being optional at 14-16, has to compete
with other equally 'relevant and important' academic disciplines, The
foundations for future growth (or survival!) and success at GCSE and A
level have to be laid here. For those concerned about the fate of history on
the school curriculum, Mr Mathias's book will serve us well.
The construction of the book makes it easy to use and the author's style
enables him to communicate effortlessly. He writes in short sentences and
with an easy style which should meet the needs of a wide ability range. The
book enables teachers and encourages pupils to see patterns and
connections across time and place, to get to grips with big historical issues
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