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Aims of Overview Studies

Since the introduction of the synoptic element into A level history courses, examiner reports have commented on how difficult students find this concept. Trying to assess concepts such as change, continuity or significance over a substantial period of time is very challenging. Students must develop a grasp of major developments, and should be aware of the views and significance of key individuals. They also have to reach judgements on particular themes and communicate those judgements clearly, while supporting them with appropriate evidence.

The key aims are:

  • To use a range of primary sources to help develop synoptic understanding of an important theme in British history
  • To make effective use of primary sources as evidence to support views developed

Overview studies attempt to divide substantial periods of time into smaller, more bite-sized periods. Within these divisions the studies present students with a number of sources. These sources are chosen for their ability to emphasise or throw light on an issue and, where possible, their inherent interest or appeal. As well as breaking down big themes and issues, the overview studies also break down the process of developing a view on important issues.

Taking it further

A secondary aim is to provide teachers with a template to create their own overview studies. The Cabinet papers are a formidable collection of original sources on almost all aspects of British history from 1915-1978. To locate collections of sources you can use the Browse By Theme feature To select particular documents you can use the database search, which is based on keywords . The approach we have taken is to select documents representative of key issues or areas of debate, however this is certainly not a hard and fast rule. Potential overview studies well supported by the Cabinet papers would be:

  • Social policy in the 20th century
  • Britain's relationship with the US
  • Britain's relationship with Europe
  • British foreign policy - key themes, issues and approaches
  • Government and the economy
  • Britain and its Empire
  • Women's suffrage
  • Fortunes of the main political parties

Remember there are many more possible studies which would be supported by the collection, and that would fit neatly into most AS/A level history courses.