31 March 2020
We asked our BA History lecturers to give us their recommendations for a textbook, novel and film that students should try before joining the course.
These selections are by Dr Richard Carr, whose historical work focuses on the impact of the First World War on interwar British politics.
Beyond the Pale/Rules of the Game (1982-3) by Nicholas Mosley. Nicholas Mosley was a nervous child who never lost his stammer, served bravely in the Second World War, and later served as a Liberal peer in the House of Lords. His father, Sir Oswald Mosley, was a bombastic orator, imprisoned in 1940 as an enemy of the state, and led the notorious British Union of Fascists. Though I’d recommend Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent as a historical work on the events of the 1930s, Nicholas Mosley’s two volume biography of his father retains a spark of humanity, and ambiguity, that makes it well worth a read. It is both a strong history, and a tale of a very strange relationship between two very different people.
Corpus, Nucleus, and Nemesis (2017-2019). This trilogy of novels by Rory Clements is far from high art, but these readable Robert Harris-esque thrillers also have two things going for them. Firstly, they are set in Cambridge in the 1930s, and thereby provide a nice introduction to the sights and sounds you will soon be taking in yourself (the city hasn’t changed that much). Secondly, the protagonist Tom Wilde is a historian whose knowledge of Elizabethian intelligence networks comes in handy centuries after the fact. You might not end up combatting the forces of National Socialism, but a history degree can take you a long way!
JFK (1991). This film should be treated with several bucket loads of salt. Directed by cinematic provocateur Oliver Stone, it details the investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963. Whilst it raises some interesting questions, it more often takes numerous historical liberties, not least in underplaying Oswald’s ability to have carried out the killing. A masterful exercise in deception, it is one to watch, interrogate, and not let just wash over you. Overall, it speaks to what JFK biographer Robert Dallek has called the ‘difficulties of the American people in accepting that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy.’ Despite its flaws, therefore, it is almost an extended study in national grief.