History matters at St Paul’s. The fact that the vast majority of girls choose to take history to IGCSE and that many continue with history to A level means that the subject makes a really significant contribution to the school’s academic culture. Historical study at St Paul’s is founded on a common purpose of building an intelligent understanding of the past. We are, above all, enthusiasts for the many different branches of this enormous subject. This diversity of enthusiasms leads, we hope, to the students appreciating the diversity and complexity of the past in such a way as to enrich and inform their understanding of the world in which they live, and will live.
For the first three years, when history is part of the core curriculum, we aim to give students a broad sense of chronology so that they will have a sense of the main periods of post-classical European history, of how societies have changed or how they have remained the same over time. To give this course coherence we focus in the first year on England as an example of medieval society. In the second year, we explore the interaction between early-modern England and continental Europe with an emphasis on religious and political conflict. In the third year, we pick on significant transitional phenomena that mark the evolution of the modern world: slavery and its abolition, industrial and political change in the nineteenth century, the First World War and American civil rights.
History is a very popular subject at IGCSE, partly perhaps because the twentieth-century material that we study is so compelling. New and challenging takes on the modern world are at the heart of what we study. Russia, before and during its revolution, Germany’s experiments with democracy and Nazism and a long period of international relations all help our students to acquire an informed perspective on the modern world.
At A level, we take advantage of the longer sweeps of history studied hitherto to adopt a challenging mix of periods and topics. The aim is that no girl studying history will be a ‘modernist’, ‘early modernist’ or ‘medievalist’, but that they will have studied different periods and different places simultaneously. Examples of the periods that will be studied include seventeenth-century British history, eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century European history and Anglo-Irish history, as well as some medieval topics. In the second year, students can choose their own coursework topic to give them a taste of individual historical investigation and even greater breadth.
A healthy number of girls choose history as an undergraduate subject and we pool our resources to prepare them for the challenges of admissions tests and interviews. There is a weekly History and Politics Society that gives girls both the opportunity to be addressed by distinguished historians and political figures and the chance to speak to their own historical and political interests. Recently, a history magazine, Clio, has been founded and the girls’ appreciation of the past has been enhanced by regular visits to Rochester Castle, and abroad to the First World war battlefields, Berlin, Paris and Dublin.