In theory, persistence will pay dividends

September 18, 2008

Writing Contemporary History

Editors: Robert Gildea and Anne Simonin

Edition: First

Publisher: Hodder Education

Pages: 224

Price: £16.99

ISBN 9780340950005

Unfortunately, this textbook is essentially based around the part of a history degree that the majority of students are likely to dislike: historiography. For most, the theoretical side of history can at times seem overcomplicated and even rather dull. Happily, this textbook helps to dispel such a view with reference to the ever-changing face of history.

The main aim of this text is to provide the reader with an introduction to the theoretical side of historical study, and it is fairly successful in doing so. The authors' discussions focus on eight key questions, ranging from the fate of gender history to the apparent end of colonial history.

Rather than providing black or white responses, the discussions highlight important concepts in reasonably clear ways, leaving room for further thought from the readers.

The way in which the reader is able to engage with the text varies depending on a particular author's chosen style. Chapters that assume knowledge may prove to be more captivating than others that include long, sometimes convoluted, explanator passages. The latter tend to consist of overly detailed descriptions of the different perspectives regarding the concepts used in historical research. It is this manner of presenting the topic that often stymies history students.

On the whole, Writing Contemporary History may prove more useful in reinforcing pre-existing knowledge of the concepts rather than introducing it anew. Understanding the ideas presented is paramount and without this engagement the chapters cannot be seen as a spark for further thoughts and instead revert to a bombardment of facts. Throughout, readers are presented with ideas and comments that ultimately will either confuse or encourage further development in their minds. As it is a collection of diverse discussions, fully appreciating the whole book may prove difficult.

Perseverance is necessary to access this textbook fully. It has the potential to serve as a useful tool for those writing and studying contemporary history, but although a number of interesting arguments are presented some chapters remain turgid.

The need for a certain level of previous knowledge means that some undergraduates may find the content presented here hard to appreciate fully. The aim of producing an introduction has been achieved; however, it is an introduction not for complete beginners but rather for the more experienced historian.

Who is it for? Brave history undergraduates.

Presentation: Generic.

Would you recommend it? Only to those students who have a reasonable background in other historiographical texts.

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