Reader's Guide to British History

Article excerpt

David Loades (ed) Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003 2 vols, 1760 pp, 200 [pounds sterling] ISBN 1-57958-242-7

In 1973 the economist E.F. Schumacher proclaimed 'Small is Beautiful'. Hard-pressed students tend to agree, and certainly textbooks are becoming smaller and smaller. But surely we all want reference books to be as voluminous as possible. Which student of history hasn't benefited from The History Today Companion to British History (at 840 pages) or The Oxford Companion to British History (at 1050)? But now even these weighty tomes are dwarfed by the new two-volume set from Fitzroy Dearborn, which contains twice as many pages--and substantially bigger pages--as the History Today Companion. The indexes alone total 177 pages, and there are 25 pages listing around 370 contributors.

The Reader's Guide, like its smaller compatriots, is arranged in the easy-to-use A-Z format, but there is one essential difference with this new work. Instead of being a guide to history, it is a guide to historiography--to 'the most informative secondary scholarship' on important issues in British history, around a thousand of them. It looks at the themes, the changes and the controversies which historians have highlighted in their books and scholarly articles. As a result, this two-volume set provides a distinctive and valuable approach. There is of course a danger, if students use the books unwisely. All too often history students write essays in terms of the opinions of historians, with the actual past sometimes being marginalised or even ignored altogether. …