Transition : Who made ‘Modern Britain’?

Before beginning their A Level study, students are given the opportunity to consider the deeper thinking and narratives that lay behind the course. This serves the role of both introducing students to A Level study and beginning to build chronological understanding of the period as a whole.

‘The past’ was made and remade

From the outset students consider why contingency is such an important element of our study of the past. Any hint of whiggishness is warned against. Instead, we ask who made (or remade) ‘modern’ Britain and how? This brings to the fore profound insights about the nature of the discipline…

Insight #1

Contingency may, in fact, be the most difficult of the C’s. To argue that history is contingent is to claim that every historical outcome depends upon a number of prior conditions; that each of these prior conditions depends, in turn, upon still other conditions; and so on. The core insight of contingency is that the world is a magnificently interconnected place. Change a single prior condition, and any historical outcome could have turned out differently. Lee could have won at Gettysburg, Gore might have won in Florida, China might have inaugurated the world’s first industrial revolution.

Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke | Jan 1, 2007

Insight #2

If we accept that the past is contingent, then what became ‘Modern Britain’ was not inevitable.

Many different individuals and groups – powerful political leaders and powerless people, sometimes with intent, sometimes without any clear idea of what they were doing – have sought to ‘modernise’ Britain – to make and remake it.

This leads us to ask a question…

Through a series of tasks, students consider the textbook telling of ‘Modern Britain’ – identifying key individuals, concepts and events that sit centre stage in most narratives of postwar Britain. Engaging with, and later securing this story is vital for any A Level student. But I would argue that we want our students to go further and not merely regurgitate the textbook. Can they not play with ideas of historical significance they’ve hopefully met before at KS3 and KS4?

Students are therefore asked immediately to speculate on who made ‘Modern Britain’ and how. research and present on any individual – grandiose or otherwise – considering the following questions:

  1. What were their key details ? (Who, where, when)
  2. What were their key details ? (Who, where, when)
  3. Who were their allies and their opponents and why?
  4. What aspects of Britain were they seeking to remake? (i.e. what did they want to change?)
  5. How successful do you think they were in making/remaking Modern Britain? Why?

Powerpoint

Notetaker