Head of Department

Mr A S J RothwellMA, PGCE, MPhil


Historians try to explain why people do the things they do. Pupils studying History at Cranleigh do the same. So, Fourth Formers consider why British generals launched the Battle of the Somme in the face of significant evidence that it would fail; Fifth Formers try to understand why 37% of Germans voted for Hitler and the Nazis in 1932; and Sixth Formers try to penetrate the mystery of why so many Soviet citizens actively participated in Stalin’s Great Terror in 1937-8. Questions like these lie at the heart of everything we teach; in answering them, pupils taking History are better able to understand the world around them.

Lower School (IGCSE)

In the Fourth Form, we study the causes, course and consequences of the First World War. We ask how it was possible for such a titanic conflict to emerge from such seemingly inconsequential causes (the opportunistic assassination of a man in Bosnia in June 1914); and we spend some time looking at how the fighting on the Western and Eastern Fronts developed over the course of the conflict. We assess to what extent the War can be said to have been well-led, and to what extent soldiers and commanders were merely victims of circumstance. Examining the peace treaties that came after the conflict, we investigate whether they were fair, and to what extent they could be said to have sowed the seeds for the Second World War, twenty years later.

For IGCSE, we follow the Edexcel course. We begin by studying the phenomenal changes that swept through American society in the 1920s, examining the profound social and economic upheavals that accompanied the unprecedented boom years before the Wall Street Crash. We then turn the clock back to 1918, and investigate how Germany fared in the same period, but this time focussing on the development of radical politics and the rise of the Nazis. This leads us to a study of life in Nazi Germany until 1945.

Our focus then shifts to international history, where we study the development of the Cold War in an atmosphere of post-war tension. We look in detail at some of the Cold War’s major flash-points – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Crisis, for example – and ask how it was that the world came seemingly so close to destruction on so many occasions. Our final IGCSE topic is China in the 20th Century, where we examine the truly extraordinary story of how this country emerged from total chaos to develop, first, into a dictatorial regime, and then into something approaching a modern superpower.

Upper School (A Level)

We take the AQA A-level course. There are three main topics we study across both years of the Sixth Form:

  1. Britain, 1906-57 (40% of the final mark)
  2. Russia, 1855-1964 (40%)
  3. The United States, 1764-1865 (20%; this is a coursework essay)

The Britain paper examines how this country underwent radical change and adapted to the unprecedented challenge of fighting two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. We look at how a series of reforming governments responded to popular pressure to combat the crippling poverty endemic to British cities around 1900, and went on to create the welfare state in a form that is recognizable to us today. We study the sometimes tense relationship between protest groups (such as the suffragists and suffragettes) and political leaders, and look at how British society changed sometimes fundamentally in the light of rapid economic change and the seemingly unstoppable expansion of government power. By the end of the course, students will be able to understand why, as Macmillan famously claimed, Britons by 1957 had “never had it so good.”

The Russia paper covers some of the most dramatic and consequential events in world history – the First World War, the Russian Revolutions of 1917, the Second World War, and the opening stages of the Cold War. We look at how Europe’s most backward and inefficient economy in the nineteenth century managed to launch the world’s first artificial satellite by 1957; we examine how the tsars and then the Communists managed to keep some element of control over one of the biggest and most culturally diverse countries on earth; and we try to understand how the Revolution went so swiftly from a harbinger of the dawn of a new era in world history to the horror of Stalin’s gulags. On the way through this, we look closely at a variety of political leaders and insurgents, from Lenin to Nicholas II to Khrushchev, who unwaveringly thought they knew how to save Russia – and whose plans, to some extent or another, all ended in disaster.

Our coursework (non-exam assessment) is centred on the challenges facing the new United States as it, first, established itself as a viable entity, and then managed – at first successfully, and then by turns increasingly badly – the process of territorial expansion and internal consolidation. In this study, which is in large part student-led, students complete a 4,000 word essay looking at one aspect of the trouble that led to the outbreak of the first really ‘modern’ war – the Civil War of 1861-65.

Trips and events

We run a variety of trips. In the Fourth Form, we organise an expedition to the First World War battlefields around Loos and on the Somme; in the Fifth Form, we take pupils on a tour of some of the significant sites we study for the IGCSE in Berlin; and in the Sixth Form (in conjunction with the Politics Department), we organise a trip to Washington DC and New York City. We are about to run two new trips in 2017-18: to Moscow and St Petersburg, in support of the Russia A-level paper, and a day-trip to London to support the Britain in the Age of Revolutions topic.

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