A general reading list for new (and not so new) history teachers

I have spent some time today putting together a list of books that I would recommend to people about to start training as history teachers. In particular, I wanted to recommend some books that did some serious work on knowledge breadth. The list I put together can be found here. It is by necessity a personal and eclectic mix, but most of the books (a) are written by leading scholars, (b) have chronological, geographical and thematic breadth, (c) are written in a style that is easily accessible to the general reader but are nevertheless (d) scholarly in their approach with clear references to the historiography and source material.

Do feel free to add further recommendations in the comments!

A General Reading List for New History Teachers

  • M. Beard, SPQR: a history of Ancient Rome
  • N. Higham & M.J. Ryan, The Anglo-Saxon World
  • C. de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts
  • R. Bartlett, The Medieval World Complete
  • J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: a history
  • F. McLynn, Ghengis Khan: the man who conquered the world
  • P. Frankopan, The Silk Roads: a new history of the world
  • D. Abulafia, The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean
  • J. Iliffe, Africans: the history of a continent
  • P. H. Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire: a thousand years of Europe’s history
  • J. Darwin, After Tamerlane: the Global History of Empire since 1405
  • J.F. Richards, The Mughal Empire
  • T. Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815
  • K. Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy
  • L. Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837
  • C. Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia,1600-1947
  • D. Reynolds, America: Empire of Liberty
  • C.A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914
  • R.J. Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914
  • O. Figes, Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991
  • R.J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich
  • J.L Gaddis, The Cold War

13 Comments on A general reading list for new (and not so new) history teachers

  1. A helpful list, thanks Michael. Others I would recommend:

    J. Gillingham, Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland, 1066-1485
    R. Hine & J. Faragher, Frontiers: A Short History of the American West
    C. Watkins, The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead

  2. When I began teaching in Egypt my constant companion was Cleveland: A History of the Modern Middle East. It offers comprehensive and thoroughly engaging coverage of the past couple of centuries.

    • Michael Fordham // 19 January 2018 at 13:46 // Reply

      Thanks – I haven’t read that. The two overviews I’ve found most useful for this are

      – A. Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples
      – B. Lewis, The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day

      I keep meaning to read something decent on the Abbasid Caliphate. Any ideas?

  3. I can highly recommend Black and British by David Olusoga which is a superb overview of the contribution that Black Britons have made to this country for at least 500 years. Extremely well researched and highly accessible. A must for all history teachers in contemporary Britain!

  4. For the caliphates, you can’t go wrong with Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates, 2nd ed.

    I’d add:
    Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity
    Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine
    John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
    Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, vols 1 and 2
    Robert Goodwin, Spain: The Centre of the World, 1519-1682
    Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
    Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy; On China
    Yang Jisheng, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962

  5. I’d start with a general overview:
    E.H. Gombrich – A Little History of the World (this can be read with primary aged kids).
    Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel [a short history of everyone for the last 13,000 years]
    Andrew Marr – A History of the World
    Stephen Jay Gould – The Book of LIfe

    Once you’ve got the big picture and a sense of wonder about it, you can dig into specific eras.

  6. YHEP YorkClio // 20 January 2018 at 19:00 // Reply

    Dan pipped me to the David Olusoga – I would endorse his view on that entirely.
    Marc Morris: The Norman Conquest
    Henrietta Leyser: Medieval Women
    Chris Wickham: Medieval Europe
    Feel we need a Tudor overview – which one??!
    Peter McPhee: The French Revolution
    Adam Hochschild: Bury the Chains
    EP Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class
    Margaret Macmillan: The War that Ended Peace
    David Olusoga: The World’s War
    Neil MacGregor: Germany Memories of a Nation and A History of the World in 100 Objects

    Thanks for this, Michael. A useful list building. Can you pull all ideas into one place eventually so that we can all share it around and keep updating it?

  7. Mine are for a more global perspective:
    The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History – J.R. McNeill & William McNeill
    Empire of Cotton: A Global History – Sven Beckert
    Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures – Matt K. Matsuda
    Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food – Jeffrey M. Pilcher

  8. What books on the history of education would you recommend?

    • Michael Fordham // 14 April 2018 at 08:51 // Reply

      I would have a look at the presidential lectures given by Peter Mandler for the Royal Historical Society over the last four years. They’re published in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.

  9. I will add another quick one:
    Antiquity by Norman Cantor.

  10. hefin mathias // 26 October 2019 at 13:00 // Reply

    I’m astonished that the two two outstanding historians of thre late 20th Century have not been not had a look in. . I refer to
    The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 (if you want to understand what modernism is all about then you have to read this book)
    The War of the World by Niall Fergusson (a polemical and really challenging riposte to Hobsbawm’s Marxism)

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