The History Boys – Alan Bennett L.O: To explore the theme of history in the play. To plan a response to an exam question on this topic. AO1 Respond to texts critically and imaginatively; select and evaluate relevant textual detail to illustrate and support interpretations. AO2: Explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers’ presentation of ideas, themes and settings.
What is History? Write a paragraph explaining how the theme of history and the nature of history relates to the play.
The Theme of History Find the quotes relating to the theme of history made by the characters on the page numbers listed on the sheet. For each quotation write a PEE paragraph about the character and their link to the theme.
Controversial History Throughout the play, Irwin encourages the boys to make controversial arguments about the origins and outcomes of historical events. What alternative arguments are being made in these extracts?Historical Event Irwin/Dakin’s alternative viewOrigins of WWI (p.25)Japan’s 1942 attack on PearlHarbour (p.35)How Henry VIII affected themonasteries (p.63)Hitler’s role in WWII (p.72)How Halifax affected the outcomeof WWII (p.90)
What is History? Review Look back at your paragraph explaining how the theme of history and the nature of history relates to the play. Change or add to your paragraph based on what you learnt last lesson.
Exam question. How is the theme of history presented by Bennett in the play?
Some points you could include The character of Irwin is representative of many modern historians in search of untrodden ground. Irwin teaches his boys to take some hitherto unquestioned historical assumption and prove the opposite. Using this theory, Irwin makes the short leap from history teacher to journalist to government spin-doctor, whose job it is to prove that the loss of trial by jury does not impinge on civil liberties, but instead broadens them. For Irwin, history is not a matter of conviction and he encourages the boys to be dispassionate, to distance themselves. This is a theory which works well when he is teaching the Reformation, but causes controversy when the class moves on to discuss the Holocaust. In a key scene, Irwin, Hector and the boys argue over whether the Holocaust should be studied, and if so, how. Whilst Hector’s approach – to perceive the Holocaust as an unprecedented horror – may seem typically naive, Posner points out that to put the Holocaust ‘in context is a step towards saying that it can be… explained. And if it can be explained then it can be explained away.’ The History Boys highlights the responsibility of the historian, and asks questions about the approach the historian should take in studying the past.
Now answer the question… How is the theme of history presented by Bennett in the play? 40 minutes – Exam conditions.