The café has recently been on a museum trail including the Museum of Archaeology in Alicante (MARQ) and the Memories of Germany exhibition at London's British Museum. What is interesting about the two is how they would appear to be fulfilling their role to educate and serve the general public.
MARQ is a recent museum (It was European Museum of the Year in 2004) which has made good use of local finds and modern audio-visual techniques to tell the story of the regions history from the earliest settlements until the early modern period. Background films covering the entire walls of display rooms give simple reconstructions to connect with the exhibits (for example the Roman area shows people walking, shopping and going to the baths as a backdrop to the many Roman artefacts on display). Pottery designs are projected onto the floor in high definition to help create atmosphere in keeping with the period being displayed. A large separate museum area shows three reconstructed "digs" linked to the locality and explaining how archaeologists operate. Again much use is made of modern technology to draw in the visitor. A recent special exhibition showed treasures of Han China. Finally all this is at little cost despite Spain's economic crisis and lack of public funding. Free Sundays and festivals (it's Spain, there are many of these!) normal admission is 3€ but there is a long list of those eligible for free entry - the café was able to take advantage of this! If you are in a school within hailing distance I should imagine you have already taken a busload there. If not, it is well worth a visit.
That takes us to the BM's recent blockbuster, Memories of Germany. It has brought together some amazing artefacts. The café favourites were Barlach's Schwebender Engel (hovering angel) and the cardboard model of the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint used to train DDR border guards! Pretty limited in size though (in the old Reading Room area) it was also rather expensive given what was on show at £11/14€ (£10 entry plus the £1 online booking charge as no walk-ins were being accepted....). This was disappointing as a quick, unscientific count of what was on show revealed that many, if not most came from the BM itself. What was being paid for was largely for the curating (by a public servant already paid well to do the job) of existing holdings, which might be free to view elsewhere in the BM. To be fair to the BM the Museum at large is free entry but why so much to show a selection of the museums own holdings? This may explain the fact that when the café attended, the visitors appeared to be largely well healed Germanists of yore whilst young (often) overseas visitors perhaps in London for a few days only were being turned away due to the no walk-ins situation. Nor would there be much room for a busload of students, even at special group rates. Where is the public service remit in all this?
Sadly, the experience of both museums tells a story of divergent philosophies with regard to freeing up access to the past. The café knows which one it is closer too.
Clement Attlee would appear to be having something of a revival in public view at the moment. He even appears on a series of T-shirts with the phrase "what would Clement do?" alongside an image of himself. What indeed? Attlee has become something of an unknown quantity for students. Less charismatic than his prime ministerial predecessor (Churchill) he led the British post war Labour government that changed the structure of British society and welfare arguably more than any other before or after. Michael Jago's biography begins to flesh out who Attlee was.
Michael Jago's narrative soon makes clear what he was not. He was not from a poor background. He attended a good public school and joined the legal profession before the 1914 war broke out. He was not a radical socialist from the Trades Union wing of the left. He was modest, not extrovert, pushing himself to the front or that ambitious that he trampled on rivals to get ahead.
However it is clear from early on he was a respected leader able to win confidence from those he led. World War I saw him serve at Gallipoli and in France with honour and an officer who cared for his men. He had a social conscience, albeit initially rooted in the upper class concept of helping the poor and needy in a "lady bountiful" way but one which led him directly into social work in the East End of London and through that into Labour Party politics as the only way he could see to change the lot of those in need. He identified with his constituents. Initially not only did he live amongst them, his East End home was partly given over to party usage.
As he rose up through the Labour Party in the interwar period to eventually lead the party Jago portrays Attlee as principled (he came to resent what he saw as MacDonalds hypocrisy and opportunism) as well as hard-working and quietly efficient. Jago raises the question of whether the party leadership came to him through luck to be in the right place at the right time rather than ability. He then tends to leave this question hanging until the final chapters when he disregards it. Always quietly efficient and hardworking, but most of all generally trustworthy towards colleagues seems to explain his success.
Most enlightening to the café is Jago's portrayal of Attlee as Deputy PM to Churchill in the wartime coalition. He is shown as a loyal supporter of the PM, softening his harsher exclamations and working very publicly to keep support up. Touring the country, giving talks in factories, shipyards as well as in town halls Attlee became the face of the government, looking forward to a better future. This had been agreed by both main parties, but Attlee came over as the confident, well organised, hard working member of the top duo. The safer pair of hands for the peace.... His profile thus raised, this made the 1945 Labour victory more easily explained.
The post 1945 period is perhaps the less satisfying part of Jago's book. It is clear the Foreign Policy saw Attlee at his weakest. India and Palestine especially were disasters whose repercussions remain today. Equally it is clear that Attlee played the Atlantic relationship poorly. Truman was too easily ignored. He lacked Churchills ability to cajole, to compliment or simply to invest the time in maintaining close personal relations with the US leadership. Whilst Jago shows this well, the café would have liked to see more focus on the personal mechanics and relationships that drove through the post war welfare state. After all it is this that would seem to have been Attlees' real strength.
Overall however a work to be recommended. Attlee needs wider study as well as recognition. It is as if he has been able to maintain his own modesty over historians in the near 50 years after his death in 1967.
History Today has revamped its website in the general form of Windows 8 tiles. This should make reading on a mobile easier. Additionally it is more straightforward to navigate the free items more easily. These include:
Ben Macintyre is now best known for his espionage books including Agent Zigzag and his latest on Kim Philby. This is one of his earlier publications (perhaps the back catalogue being re-released on the back of these later, more successful works.) and is not about spies. Rather it combines two unlikely themes in an offbeat but readable way.
Going off to Paraguay, Macintyre looks for evidence of German colony founded in the 19th century by the sister of Friedrich Nietsche. In 1886 Elisabeth Nietzsche, set up a 'racially pure' colony in Paraguay together with a band of blond-haired fellow Germans. Macintyre describes his travels as he crosses the inhospitable centre of Paraguay to find actual survivors of Nueva Germania still living an isolated existence in the remains of the bizarre colony.
However, Forgotten Fatherland is more than this. It is written in a "double style" retelling not just the narrative of colonial settlement but in tandem the more intriguing story of how Elisabeth came to hijack her brothers legacy and turn him into a cult to serve her own nationalistic and racist ends. Nietzsche, the stalwart of the individual, anti church, anti imperial and anti nation (he himself refused to support Nueva Germania) is transmuted into the intellectual rock behind National Socialism, Elisabeth's shrine for her brother in Weimar becoming a place of pilgrimage for Hitler, Mussolini and other assorted nationalists of the far right during the 1930's and early 1940's.
This has elements of Pimblet's Paraguay history/travelogue, Inflatable Pig but is probably also a straightforward primer in understanding what Nietzsche actually does represent. Well worth looking out for.
This is a book on an area that has not received much modern attention (although just like buses, you wait for ages then two come along at once: in the last couple of months another work has appeared on this very topic - Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer. How depressing must that be to the writer of the second one....). It tells a good story though: the tale of how Charles I came to be tried and executed and how after the restoration of his son Charles II, tables were turned and the regicides became the hunted themselves.
Don Jordan and Michael Walsh have a background in documentary journalism rather than academic history and this perhaps contributes to the fact that the work is accessible and reads well. The background to the execution of Charles is dealt with briefly but clearly and the narrative of the trial and execution reads well. Where the book is most valuable is in describing the period of chaos, treachery and political wheeler-dealing that followed the death of Oliver Cromwell and the failure of his son Richard. Normally this receives limited focus as standard works (and exam courses) move swiftly to the Restoration of Charles II. Here though we see the full reaction to regime change. Fellow travellers of the Republic rush to change sides (in some cases becoming double-agents to help root out the Republicans who do not sway), and are quick to be visibly praising the restored monarchy and attacking the outgoing regime. Villain of the piece is portrayed to be General Monck, erstwhile General in the New Model Army, but then turncoat who changes sides and uses his forces to neutralise the Republican military and prepare the way for Charles II to return.
As part of the terms for his return, Charles II promises "Oblivion" a pardon to all but those who signed his father's death warrant. The new monarch however is shown as being far from charitable towards the surviving leaders of the Commonwealth and those (such as "Cornet Joyce" who originally took his father under arrest) he felt bore some part of the responsibility for the execution of the King. Vengeance is a better description than mercy as signatories of the document sentencing Charles I to death are arrested, tried with little real opportunity at defence, then (described in detail) hanged, castrated, disembowelled (still alive) and quartered. In an ironic echo of the Marian executions a century earlier, the dignity shown by those dying does much to uphold their cause - to the concern of Charles II.
The list of those excluded from pardon keeps growing, agents comb Europe (and less successfully the colonies in north America) assassinating, seeking rendition and extradition. It appears the town of Vevey in Swiss Bern was one of the few places to genuinely offer asylum and protect against Royalist agents. This is where Edmund Ludlow, whom many of the exiles hoped might lead the invasion to depose Charles II, managed to live safely until his death in 1692.
The King's Revenge shows clearly that the end of the Commonwealth did not only mean a restoration of monarchy. It also brought an end to a period when principle was a key determinant of policy. The men of principle were forced to hide or were extinguished. Those left behind in England and in politics were the survivors, those willing to bend to suit expediency. These politicians, rather than the restored monarchy were to set the tone for the future development of English and then British democracy. The "Good Old Cause" was well and truly buried.
A recent Guardian article has written reviews of various apps that could be of help to classroom teachers. Clearly the usefulness of each will depend on teaching style but the list is worth a look and includes:
QuickKey, a free app that enables your phone to scan quizzes, tests and surveys on paper and mark them. (Can it do source questions?)
Google Classroom which quickly makes a copy of a Google document for each of your students (ready for those source questions)
Class Dojo or TeachersAssistantPro both appear to provide alternatives for behaviour management, for when your charges tire of the sources.
The page has many more (not all applicable to History teaching) including a couple to pep up powerpoints. Finally, look at the Reader Comments......
First published in the 1990's before Beevor's series of very successful wartime histories this follows a similar pattern to the later works: a basic narrative supplemented consistently with contemporary accounts/ descriptions/ diary extracts.
The work falls into four sections, the first of which, Paris before, during and after liberation, I found the most useful. Beevor and his co-author provide a concise yet clear outline of the fall of France and the political in-fighting that followed, especially with the creation of Vichy France. The general reader should find this very helpful in understanding the attitudes and prejudices that divided postwar France as well as explaining its at time difficult response to the postwar USA and UK. The section on liberation and immediate aftermath deals clearly with the Epuration, or purging of collaborators as well as with the various shades of individuals able to evade the process.
Less successful are the other sections. The conflict between the French Communist Party and the supporters of the Republic (as well as the proto Gaullists) receives thorough treatment as does the (almost imperceptible) move towards closer ties with Germany. Schumann and Monnet are presented especially favourably as statesman of vision when most others were still fighting the battles of the past. De Gaulle's attempt to form a "bridge" between the USA/UK and the Soviet Union is also made clear. There is much reliance on the Duff Cooper diaries (unsurprisingly as the writer -and wife of Beevor) was the grand-daughter of Duff Cooper, UK ambassador in Paris, and whilst this provides witness descriptions it does slant the account of life in the post liberation capital towards those at the top of French society. There is very little supported account of how liberation and the postwar hardships impacted on the mass of the population.
A strong thread throughout is the impact of events on cultural life in Paris, and the relationships of the Parisian intellectuals with each other receives full treatment. Here is an explanation of why French intellectuals held such sway for left wing intellectuals across Europe until the early seventies – as well as clues as to how this may have been misguided. Unfortunately this could be better organised in the main body of the text. At times it seems De Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Picasso et al are included to provide some lighter relief from France's political travails.
Overall a worthwhile read, if not one of Beevor's best, largely for the first 100 or so pages on the politics of 1940-45 in the English language and the cultural history provided thereafter which reads like a whose who of France's thinking and scribbling classes of the time.