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Welcome to History

We believe our students are motivated, creative and curious: they choose History, read History, watch History, play History games, acquire historical knowledge and are keen to share and explore that with us. To recognise and encourage this, our six expert teachers are always available for discussion, and love running trips in the UK and to the Battlefields, Berlin and Russia.

Miss Tanya van der Werff, Head of History




Staff Profiles

Miss Tanya van der Werff

Why are you a historian?

I get bored easily; History is never boring, and I will never be able to say I know it all. The human condition is endlessly fascinating.

What's the most important lesson history has taught you?

Not to take life for granted.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?

‘1066 & All That’ by Sellars and Yeatman - a spoof History book from the 1930s that reminds us that history is not what happened, but what you can remember.

What book in your field should everyone read?

‘Empire’ by Nial Fergusson - the first of a new style of study of the British Empire, a fascinating subject and very readable.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

I would like to own a TARDIS….Trafalgar Square on VE day? Virginia Woolf’s Orlando made me want to be at the ice fair in Elizabethan London when the Thames froze over. Reading Heinrich Harrer made me want to accompany the Dalai Lama as he fled over the Himalaya after the Chinese invaded Tibet.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Bede and Michael Wood as an A Level student, John Walsh, my tutor for giving me a place at Jesus College Oxford.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

Magellan - I love travelling, and to meet the first person to sail around the world and hear about his encounters and opinions would be incredible. Or Marco Polo.

What foreign languages do you speak?

School-girl French, traveller’s Spanish, and a few words of Dutch, Italian and Russian.

What's the point of counterfactualism?

Fun - I love it, and History is all about asking questions, so why not ‘what if’?

What's the most exciting field in history today?

Empire history

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The 20th Century (I thought I was a medievalist)

What genre of history do you like least?

Economic, followed closely by biography.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?

Lots: I read reviews to keep up-to-date with current thinking, as there is not enough time to read all the history and all the novels I would like, even though I read every day.

Mr James Leigh

Why are you a historian?

History teaches us about humanity. To learn about how people lived in times before ours is a privilege - and it teaches us to appreciate what we have.

What's the most important lesson history has taught you?

Humility. The ability for people to endure in the hardest of circumstances is incredible.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?

Ian Kershaw - ‘The Hitler Myth’. A book which hugely challenged my ideas on Hitler and the Third Reich when I was a Year 12. Kershaw disputes the totalitarian view of Hitler as a strong leader which a simple look at the narrative might suggest.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Paul Johnson - ‘Napoleon’ is the book I would recommend to all Year 12 and 13 historians as it is extremely accessible. There is no excuse not to read it!

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

To have actually been on the moon when Armstrong took humankind’s first steps there.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Not strictly a ‘historian’ - but my step mother, a History graduate. She challenged my young views on history and taught me to appreciate the actions of those who challenged the powerful.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

A very difficult question! Emil Zatopek is a hugely inspiring figure, the only man to have won the 5km, 10km and marathon in one Olympics. He was known for his friendly and generous personality, despite a life of great hardship under both the Nazi and Communist regimes, and even stood up to the Communist regime in the Prague Spring. Or Audrey Hepburn!

What foreign languages do you speak?

French (not as fluently as I should) and Spanish (now poorly)

What's the point of counterfactualism?

I am not a fan. It can be fun and interesting but to me is not history, which is fun and interesting anyway!

What's the most exciting field in history today?

The field in Wiltshire which each summer turns into the Chalke Valley History Festival. Wonderful.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Many, constantly! “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. You need to keep an open mind when confronted with new facts or evidence, and not be too stubborn.

What genre of history do you like least?

As a child I was interested in English kings, but not any more.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?

Many! I would not pretend I have read even the majority!

Miss Gabby Plowman

Why are you a historian?

History allows you to explore every subject and attempt to understand the views of others.

What's the most important lesson history has taught you?

No matter how correct you think you are, there are always other views that can challenge your opinion.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. He amazingly reduces the whole history of man into a few hundred pages and makes you reconsider why humans became the dominant force on earth.

What book in your field should everyone read?

‘Not Tudors, but a great book is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall to fully understand the impact geography has had on shaping nations and their histories.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

1960s America - the marches, the music and the movements.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

David Starkey as he makes history accessible and interesting.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

Without any hesitation, Anne Boleyn -the most influential woman for England ever.

What foreign languages do you speak?

I can order many items in Czech and explain where it hurts.

What's the point of counterfactualism?

Makes you think outside of the box and everyone loves a ‘what if’.

What's the most exciting field in history today?

Forgotten history, finding out what happened to those history forgot; the poor, women, minorities. It is exciting to see a greater interest into the lives of the ordinary person.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Warfare - once I started to look at the impact war has had on society and politics it made me appreciate how powerful the topic is.

What genre of history do you like least?

Economic, too dry.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?

Golden Harvest by Jan Tomasz Gross - a troubling account of what people will do.

Mr Luke Johnson

Why are you a historian?

It is such a diverse and fascinating subject.

What's the most important lesson history has taught you?

Don’t place too much emphasis on theories or ideologies!

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?

I like Peter Hennessy’s book on PMs.

What book in your field should everyone read?

‘Events, Dear Boy, Events’, which is a collection of political diary entries from Britain 1921-2010. Or read the Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Tudor London would be my first choice.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Prof. Jonathan Riley-Smith who taught me in my third year at university. Plus Mr Jones my A-level teacher.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

I think it would be fun to meet a figure like Ramesses II!

What foreign languages do you speak?

Pretty bad French and Kiwi-English

What's the point of counterfactualism?

Not a fan.

What's the most exciting field in history today?

Contemporary history.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The post-war consensus

What genre of history do you like least?

I am not that keen on historiography, but once you get into any genre or period, there will be many things of interest. If you want boring stuff, try books on Land Law!

Is there a major historical text you have not read?

Lots on the 19th century – bit of a black hole for me!



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