Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Looking to a bright new future ............ history books from the 1950s

Now I have never lost my love of the children’s history books I read back in the 1950s.*

The cooling earth
And so I have returned with another old favourite, and lest anyone thinks this is just a bit of nostalgia I have to say that these books offer up a fascinating glimpse into how history was being written for children and how some writers had embraced the idea that the past is not just about Kings and Queens along with a few of the good and the powerful.

R.J. Unstead and Edward Osmond wrote social history which explored everyday lives and broke new ground by explaining how geography and nature played a part in shaping the history of our country.

The Fotress Home
Added to which there were an abundance of fine illustrations by some of the leading artists of the day.

Of these the pictures of Alan Sorrell and Ron Embleton stand out as excellent examples of historical accuracy matched by a realism which then and even now I find most compelling.

And so to The Pictorial History Book which was published in 1955.  It is a wonderful book covering the history of Britain from the very beginning of the Universe, through to the 1950s lavishly illustrated and offering a mix of short paragraphs with longer explanations of events and detailed fact summaries covering everything from timelines to biographies data.

My copy I think must date from Christmas 1955 or soon after.  It is now very battered and in danger of falling apart, having lost its protective cover a long time ago, and yet it is still magic to read, and often is a first port of call for information long before those adult reference books or a trawl of Wikipedia.

The New Model Army
So yes, a tad nostalgic indulgence perhaps, but also an exploration of how history was being presented to young people in the 1950s.

And of course it has become history itself for the book drips with the optimism of the 1950s.

The last two pages FROM TODAY INTO TOMORROW, are full of pictures accompanied with comments about “cheap air travel will make distance of no importance, [with] Holidays in the tropics taken all year round,”  “the drudgery will be taken out of housework by many labour saving machines” and “students from the Commonwealth will come to Britain to be taught in our technical colleges and universities.”

All of which was introduced by “In recent years the idea has been accepted in Britain that no citizen should be left unhelped if he is sick or if there is no work for him to do.”

Now that then and now is a pretty sound way to sign off on a history book.

Pictures; from The Pictorial History Book, & Co, Ltd Sampson Low, Marston & Co, Ltd, 1955

*Books Children,

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