Head of Department

Mr A.S.J. RothwellMPhil, PGCE, MA


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 (AS and A Level)

Our course follows the OCR specification. The three examined papers are Britain in the age of Revolutions, 1783-1853 (25% of total marks); The Cold War in Asia 1945-1993 (15%); and Russia, 1855-1964 (40%). Coursework (20%) is written on the Cold War in Asia.

For the Britain in the Age of Revolutions topic, we study nothing less than the creation of modern Britain, looking at how this country emerged from a period of unprecedented global turmoil to become the dominant power not only in Europe, but in the whole world. The question at the heart of this paper is how Britain managed this extraordinary achievement at the same time as fighting the most expensive war in its history – against the French revolutionaries and Napoleon Bonaparte – and while also resisting the seemingly unstoppable tide of revolution that swept Europe repeatedly in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. How did a government of stuffy aristocrats deal with a brewing British revolutionary movement? How did they cope with demands for better representation in Parliament? And how did they manage a British society industrialising and urbanising at breakneck speed? These are some of the questions students of this paper are able to address.

The Cold War paper draws on the IGCSE Cold War study, but shifts the focus away from Europe and towards Asia. The course examines the basis of US involvement in Asia after 1945, and the changing nature of US policy in seeking to contain Communism in China, Korea and Vietnam. With Vietnam, the focus is on the important reasons for growing US involvement from the 1940s to the 1960s, and on the problems of failure and disengagement. We discover why Vietnam turned into perhaps the biggest American foreign-policy mistake of all time.

For the Russia paper, students examine another remarkably tumultuous period in European history. We look at the entrenchment of a medieval-style autocratic government in a nineteenth-century country under Tsars Alexander II and III, the causes of the single most important event in modern global history (the Russian Revolution), its consequences, and the development of the singularly ugly Soviet dictatorship that followed it. The lengthy period covered by this paper (1855-1964) allows students to develop a uniquely subtle view of historical trends in the long term. We examine the factors that drove and shaped Russian society, its culture and economy across a more than a century; and this perspective allows students to study history in a way that’s intriguing and entirely different from anything encountered at GCSE level.

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.