In the SPS History Department we seek to nourish and develop all the attributes of the academic historian, ranging from the ability to narrate detailed and complex chronologies, such as events in Russia in 1917 and the actions of the House of Commons 1640 – 1642, to demonstrating the capacity to interrogate a source. After all, if a scholar cannot think of a question to ask a source then that source forever remains silent in the same way that a suspect in a murder trial does not have to describe his whereabouts if not asked ‘So, where were you on the night of the murder?’ Our aim is thus to equip boys to engage with the past and for them to develop the wherewithal to ask their own questions of the material they encounter, and by so doing to deepen and extend their own intellectual curiosity. Two History Societies exist and meet frequently in order to act as a catalyst in this process. These Societies are variously addressed by staff, expert external speakers and sometimes by boys.
We have developed a new and exciting Sixth Form course that ranges widely in time and territory and exposes boys to such topics as Black African American Civil Rights, Jack the Ripper, the assassination of JFK, the development of warfare from 1250c and the story of the emergence of rights for women – to list just a few of the available topics. Our GCSE students follow the Cambridge IGCSE History 0470 course, studying Option B (the 20th century: International Relations since 1919) accompanied by a Depth Study of Germany, 1918 – 1945. An ability to write under pressure a cogent essay of substance and style is nurtured and brought to fruition by the demands of an extended essay examination paper instead of coursework. In the 8th Form boys prepare for Cambridge History Pre U (9769). They study British and European topics from 1688c to 1880 and thus gain a clear picture of this important period of history. This is accompanied by a Personal Investigation (a 4,000 word research essay) and a detailed study of the reign of Charles I, making significant use of primary sources.
The vast quantity of History available for study engenders in some a nagging doubt that engagement with any one period is at the cost of another more interesting, more ‘relevant’ period. Whilst this is a sensation that is not always easy to slay we are confident that boys who pass through the SPS History Department are henceforth equipped to discover the past for themselves, and by so-doing will be able to see the world in which they live in its proper perspective. Some boys will use their experience of studying History directly and in a scholarly way in their future careers (such as Dan Snow OP) and others, whether bankers, teachers, accountants, doctors - or whatever - will use it indirectly; all will use it better to engage with, and more fully to understand, the world in which they live.
There are two History societies, one offering a forum for boys in the IVth, Vth and VIth Forms and the other providing the same for older boys. Typically, the latter meets every other week and hosts historians of distinction. Recent speakers have included Michael Portillo, Marc Morris and Nicholas Vincent. Several internal essay prizes exist and each year a number of boys compete in the essay competitions held by various Oxbridge colleges. The Department also runs an annual reading week to Churchill College Cambridge, during which boys give formal presentations on a topic they have researched. There is a regular tour of the battlefields of the First World War and every other year the Department organises a trip to see places of historical interest north of Watford Gap.
After St Paul's
Many former students have developed their study of History into distinguished academic careers:
- Gareth Stedman Jones, Professor of Political Science at Cambridge
- Tony Hopkins, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin
- David Priestland, Lecturer in Modern History, Oxford
- David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History, Cambridge
- Richard Rathbone, Professor of African History, SOAS
Another Old Pauline, Adam Sisman, is the author of historical and other works, whilst Dan Snow is a TV presenter who has produced history programmes for the BBC.
History Staff Members