Sean Lang recommends

Faculty: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
School: School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Course: History BA (Hons)

31 March 2020

Sean Lang

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 Sean Lang, a specialist in the history of the British Empire.

History Text
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama. Described by Prof William Doyle as “A brilliant book, which will set the study of the subject back ten years”! And it is a brilliant book. It is a vivid account of the early years of the French Revolution. Schama shows how to write history that reads as easily as a novel, and his narrative is indeed every bit as breathtaking as many a work of fiction. He undoubtedly has his own particular take on the period, which comes across very clearly (spoiler: he is not a fan of revolutionary violence) and the book only covers up to the end of the Terror; nevertheless, this is a stimulating and enjoyable read which certainly leaves you keen to find out more.

Novel
The Siege by Helen Dunmore. This is an account of one woman’s experiences during the terrible siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) during the Second World War.  The siege was one of the twentieth century’s epics of suffering and endurance - thousands died from cold and starvation, and people were reduced to eating wallpaper paste and even cannibalism. The novel captures the grim experience superbly, and there is a wonderful evocation of a carefree, but unknowing, night before the siege began.

Film
Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World. Based on one of Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic naval war adventures, this is one of the very best historical films. It captures both the detail of naval life and the attitudes of the time, even down to the development of ideas about the natural world that would lead in due course to Darwin’s theories. It is also a cracking good adventure, with a climactic battle that conveys the brutal nature of naval fighting in the period and the terrible cost involved.
 

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