History

History is a voyage of discovery into the past. But the past does not ‘exist’ in the way that Paris or petroleum exists. Indeed, the only thing we can say about it with any real certainty is that it does not exist at all: by definition, it is ‘not present’. This may not sound like the most promising of voyages; in fact, it is endlessly exhilarating. We have clues to guide us: like letters, laws, wills, wars, pyramids, rituals, languages – and people, both living and dead, who disagree with us about their meanings. It happened: but how did it really happen? That's the question you must answer.

In Years 7 and 8, our voyage of exploration centres on the peoples of the British Isles and their connections with the wider world. In Year 7 and 8, boys study the history of these islands from the 11th through to the early 18th century, exploring the development of kingship from William the Conqueror to Mary Tudor to George I; the emergence and suppression of popular voices and protests; the development of the arts (the College Archives hold a wealth of Shakespearean treasures to which boys are given special access); the making and breaking of political unions between England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland; the forging and fracturing of relationships with continental Christendom; the dynamics of and debates surrounding the Crusades; and the themes of trade, exploration, and exploitation that characterised the beginnings of British and European engagements with Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Far from an insular story of ‘English history’, then, boys are given an important chronological grounding in the mediaeval and early-modern world, whilst also encountering important historiographical concepts and controversies; and they will come to know something of the realms of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Moctezuma II, Tlatoani of the Aztec Empire, and Garcia II, the manikongo, just as they will that of William Rufus or Elizabeth I.

In Year 9, boys study key moments and themes in modern history – specifically, across the ‘long nineteenth century’. We begin by exploring the American War of Independence and the French Revolution and its consequences. We then turn to a deeper study of Britain’s emergence, following its struggle with Napoleon, as a global hegemon. Here, we reflect on the sinews of British power: commerce and the East India Company; the slave trade and the Royal Navy; discourses of racism and ‘the scramble for Africa’. We highlight here the ways in which themes of race and exploitation were inextricably bound up with ‘dynamic’ themes of imperial power, like trade and exploration, and we make extensive use of primary sources to amplify the voices of the colonised as much as the coloniser, and to reflect on the complex responses to British imperialism – from resistance to adaptation to assimilation. The course then explores the nature of the European state system and its imperial dimensions on the eve of the First World War, and boys study the origins of that war, its course, and its conclusion. These macro-historical events and processes are also given micro-historical and personalised meaning: each boy undertakes an independent study of an OA who fought and died in the conflict. Here, boys are exposed to the wealth of the College’s archival and digital resources and a clear sense of the modern historian’s craft.

In Years 10 and 11, we follow the CIE IGCSE course – a study of international relations from 1918 to 2005. We begin by focussing on the attempts to build a peaceful global order in the 1920s, and the failure of this experiment under the pressure of fascism in the 1930s. A coursework essay on the Second World War accounts for 20% of the overall grade. The course then examines key flash points in the Cold War – Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam – as well as the nature of Soviet control in Eastern Europe and the causes of conflict in the Gulf region between 1970 and 2005. It concludes with a depth study of Weimar and Nazi Germany; and particular attention is paid to the rise of anti-Semitism and the abomination of the Holocaust.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Dulwich College History Department lies in the diversity of its A Level provision, with teachers following their passions and boys being the beneficiaries of their expertise. We follow the AQA syllabus. Boys study one British and one non-British option; and, in general, one of those papers will be mediaeval or early-modern, and the other, late-modern. Courses currently taught include: The Angevin Kings, 1154-1216; The Wars of the Roses, 1450-1499; Tudor England, 1485-1603; Stuart Britain, 1603-1702; Industrialisation and the People: Britain 1783-1886; The British Empire, 1857-1967; The Making of Modern Britain, 1951-2007; Louis XIV and Europe, 1643-1715; Russia in the Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment, 1682-1796; France in Revolution, 1774-1815; Tsarist and Communist Russia, 1855-1964; Germany, 1871-1991; Italy and Fascism, 1900-1945; The Transformation of China, 1936-1997. Candidates for examination also undertake a 4500-word coursework essay, which accounts for 20% of the final grade. Boys have written on a wide range of topics, such as the rise of the Dutch Republic; Witchcraft in seventeenth-century Scotland; the Opium Wars; and the African American struggle for civil rights.

History teachers also deliver Liberal Studies courses on the American Civil War and the history of art; as well as offering ‘A Level Plus’ courses on Nazi rule in Europe, 1939-45, and on American history, politics, and culture.

With such richness in our teaching, History remains one of the largest A Level subjects, with over 60 boys enrolling every year. They achieve excellent results: an average of 25% have attained A* grades over the last five years, and over 90% A*-B. In recent years, three boys have won the Vellacott Essay Prize, administered by Peterhouse, Cambridge; and in 2020 four boys won places at Oxbridge colleges to study History.

Beyond the classroom, History students make visits to sites of historical significance, such as the First World War battlefields and European capitals like Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest. In the August before they return to the Sixth Form, keen historians are taken on a week of outings and expeditions to museums, galleries, exhibitions and sites of interest in London and farther afield; suitable readings are paired with each outing. This is the culmination of an extensive provision for those considering the discipline at university, and for those making an Oxbridge application: Further History seminars run weekly throughout the academic year and introduce boys to a wide range of readings and sources – not least those hosted by the impressive College Archives. The jewel in the crown, however, remains the History Society, which meets in the Masters’ Library every Friday at 4PM; these discussions are chaired by the Head of History, but driven by the boys who attend. Recent topics of debate have included ‘History and Memory’, ‘Historical Statues and Present Politics’, and ‘Conspiracy Theories’; recent outings have been made to the College of Arms and the British Library; and recent speakers have included world-class historians like Rosemary Hill on Antiquarianism, Rod Wye on Deng Xiaoping, Prof. Jane Ridley on Victoria and the Victorians, Michael Bundock on Francis Barber, Prof. Roy Foster on W. B. Yeats, Prof. Michael Collins on ‘the Kenya Emergency’, and Prof. Simon Dixon on Peter the Great.

Discover More

Mr Colm Ó Siochrú MA MPhil

Head of History
osiochrucg@dulwich.org.uk