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Conferences and Events

Teaching American History in Schools

Report of a one-day conference on Teaching American History in Schools held at the University of Nottingham on July 15, 1998


A very successful one-day conference on Teaching American History in Schools was held at the University of Nottingham on July 15, 1998. Twenty-one teachers attended. Also present were Robin Berrington, the U.S. Cultural Attaché, Phil Davies, Chair of BAAS, Ian Ralston, Director of the American Studies Resources Centre at Liverpool John Moores University, and Douglas Tallack, Head of the School of American & Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham and chair of the Development Sub-Committee of BAAS, under whose auspices and with whose financial support the conference took place. In the first of three lectures, Tim Lomas, Vice-President of the Historical Association and a member of the Lincolnshire Board of Education Inspectorate, discussed the place of History in the school curriculum, especially American History. He suggested that, despite some justified fears regarding the place of History in the school curriculum, there were also grounds for optimism. At the primary school level, for example, History teaching had greatly improved, and it included some American History topics. The National Curriculum had on the whole been to the benefit of History, especially since two of the most prominent Secretaries of State for Education during the formulation stages of the National Curriculum were historians, namely, Sir Keith Joseph and Kenneth Baker. However, there were dangers. Kenneth Clarke had dropped History as a compulsory subject in Key Stage 4. Also, although some American subjects were taught at Key Stage 3, such as the New Deal, the Cold War, African Americans and Native Americans, the emphasis in the History curriculum was strongly on British History. The present situation was fluid, with important curriculum decisions to be made within the next few years, so that there was need for lobbying to press for greater prominence within the National Curriculum for History in general and for American History in particular. Derrick Murphy, a History teacher at St. Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire and NEAB Examiner in American History, talked about the 1998 A-level exam in American History and distributed copies of the exam paper. The most popular topics on which pupils had answered questions were the New Deal, Immigration, the Cold War, Civil Rights, LBJ and JFK. Derrick Murphy gave examples of some gems which illustrated how much the pupils had actually taken in during their classes, such as one pupil’s answer about W.E.B. DuBois and the Viagra Movement! Scott Lucas, who teaches American History at the University of Birmingham, gave a version of the splendid presentation which he made at a recent BAAS conference, showing video clips to illustrate the use of video in the teaching of American History. Those of us with educationally subnormal skills in the art of putting on a video which actually comes up with the picture, sound and subject intended, were filled with admiration for Scott’s dexterity. Discussion groups were then held, which produced useful feed-back. Douglas Tallack has begun lobbying efforts, which will be ongoing. Teachers expressed the need for suitable texts at school level, and discussions on this matter have subsequently opened with Routledge and other publishers It was agreed that continuation and ongoing contact could be achieved through the Newsletter of the American Studies Resources Centre. The Cultural Attaché subsequently wrote to the conference organiser, stating that he felt that the conference had been very successful and that this was precisely the type of activity which would have strong support of the U.S. Embassy. Another conference is being planned for next year at the University of Nottingham. The tentative date and subject is Wednesday, July 9, on an American literary text which is on the English A-Level syllabus, examining the work as a literary text and also giving the historical context, with a session also on the teaching of American History in schools as a follow-on from this year’s conference. Anyone who has any ideas regarding the conference or wishes to attend should contact Peter Boyle, Dept. of American & Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, or contact

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