“I am pleased I chose History because the topics within the course have been very interesting and the work is challenging, yet also rewarding when it pays off in our essays. Throughout my studies in Year 12 History I have enjoyed learning about Britain’s political history as well as studying aspects of World War II in the American section of the course. Additionally, seeing my grades on essays gradually improve over the course of the year as we have learnt more has been quite satisfying. I think if I was to redo my time in Year 12 History I would definitely prepare myself to be more organised!” – Callum
The core textbook is: Clayton, S., Murphy, D., Barnard, J. and Bullock, O. (2015). Democracies in Change: Britain and the USA in the 20th Century. London: Pearson. ISBN: 9781447985297. Make sure you check the ISBN as there are two books of the same title, but Hodder published the other. You will be expected to purchase this book.
New students in history could watch these documentary episodes:
- The BBC series Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain is normally on YouTube. Episodes 1-3 give you some good background about Britain between 1900 and 1918, helping to prepare you for the starting point (1918) of the course itself.
- The PBS series The Century: America’s Time is also on YouTube. It provides a good overview of the history of the USA since 1900. For background to the A Level course (which starts c.1920) you should watch Episode 1: The Beginning: Seeds of Change and Episode 2: 1914-1919: Shell Shock.
The Year 12 courses (Britain and the USA) both start after the First World War. As such, your focus needs to be to use these programmes to learn about the two countries c.1918-20 – in other words, what were the two countries like at the starting point of the course?
You should make bullet point notes about this (separately about Britain and the USA) under these headings:
- What was the role of the government of Britain/USA in providing for their people?
- How far was Britain/USA a divided society at the start of the twentieth century? For this question, think about divisions between class, race, gender and religion.
- What was daily life like for ordinary people in Britain/USA?
- What did people do for entertainment in Britain/USA?
- How did the First World War affect Britain/USA?
- Were there any big problems or issues affecting Britain/USA between 1918 and 1920?T
There are also some good books, both non-fiction and fiction you can read to help you understand the period.
For the Britain course, the best general history of the period covered by the A Level course is Clarke, P. (2004) Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900-2000.
For the USA, Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States is a classic, though is a big book that covers the whole of American history since 1492.
If you would like to read some fiction to help you understand the topics you will be studying in the A Level course, books such as Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh can help you understand England from an upper-class perspective in the 1920s and 1930s. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is a good route into understanding a British soldier’s experience of the First World War, as background to the course. The classic book depicting 1920s America is undoubtedly The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. These are obviously just a few suggestions, but any reading on Britain or the USA during the relevant periods will help you!