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History A Level at Truro and Penwith College

Course description

During the two years of A Level you will study the British Empire between 1857 and 1967 and The Cold War 1945-1991. We will be considering key questions such as how Britain came to assume such a vast Empire upon which the sun never set and why, having amassed such an immense Empire, Britain relinquished much of it in a 20 year period after the end of World War Two. You will study the key events in the expansion of the British Empire, the significance of individuals such as Cecil Rhodes and the impact of World War One and World War Two in the process of decolonisation.

The rise and fall of the British Empire provides an interesting contrast to the other examined module – The Cold War, 1945-1991. You will look at the origins of the ideological conflict between the United States and Soviet Union and the impact that key individuals such as Truman and Stalin had on the emerging conflict. You will examine how the Cold War developed in the 1950s and 1960s and consider the impact the escalating arms race had, as well as the increasingly global nature of the conflict. You will study the reasons for the improvement in relations during the period of détente and the reason for its collapse and subsequent deterioration of relations into the ‘New Cold War’ in the early 1980s. You will conclude your study with an examination of the fascinating period 1985-1991 which saw the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The final component of the History A Level comprises an historical investigation, looking at the history of the USA from 1754-1865.

Course content

AS Level

  • Component 1: The British Empire, c1857-1914.
  • Component 2: The Cold War c1945-1963

A Level

Component 1: The British Empire c1857-1967. You will study in breadth issues of change, continuity, cause and consequence in this period through the following key questions: Why did the British Empire grow and contract? What influenced imperial policy? What part did economic factors play in the development of the British Empire? How did the Empire influence British attitudes and culture? How did the indigenous peoples respond to British rule? How important was the role of key individuals and groups and how were they affected by developments?

Component 2: The Cold War, 1945-1991. This fascinating depth study will track the evolving course of international relations between communist and capitalist powers which threatened nuclear Armageddon. You will study the global nature of the Cold War including its impact on Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The impact of key individuals on Cold War relations will be considered as well as conflicts ranging from full-scale war in Vietnam to the role of nuclear weapons in Cuba, as well as covert actions in Latin America. The unit concludes with an analysis of why the Cold War ended including the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Reagan’s policies towards the USSR and Gorbachev’s new political thinking.

Component 3: (Historical Investigation) USA, 1754-1865 You will study in breadth and depth the years in which thirteen American colonies chose to sever their links with Great Britain and thus found the USA. This study explores the concepts of imperialism, mercantilism and legitimate government and encourages students to reflect upon the interplay of forces from below and above, the importance of ideology and the economy in political development and the issues facing those who attempt to challenge an established authority. You will go on to study another period of major change in American history, which saw the disintegration of the country into Civil War, demanding a subsequent reconstruction. It explores concepts such as political authority, abolitionism and social justice. It also encourages students to consider what creates social tension and harmony, the idea of nationhood and the issues surrounding political compromise.

Entry requirements

History is available to students who have already studied the subject at GCSE, as well as students who have not studied History at Key Stage 4. Success in History requires a good standard of written work and we would expect students to have achieved GCSE English at grade B or above as well as to have gained a B grade or above in History (if studied) or another relevant academic GCSE. Students also need to be self-motivated and capable of carrying out independent research and wider reading. Above all you should be interested and willing to engage in the subject.


Units 1 and 2 are examined by two 2.5 hour exams at the end of the second year. Each of these exams is worth 40% of the A Level. The Historical Investigation comprises of an essay of 3000-3500 words. It is internally assessed and externally moderated. This is worth 20% of the A Level.

You will learn in a friendly atmosphere, using a variety of assessment methods that will include discussion and debate, research tasks, group work, presentations and lectures. You will be expected to complete 5 hours of independent study a week.

You will be assessed regularly on written essay work that is conducted either as independent study or under timed conditions in class. You will be given detailed written feedback including next steps to focus on for the next piece of assessed work. You will be completing approximately one piece of assessed work every fortnight. You will also have opportunities to review your performance in 1:1 sessions with your tutor.

Future opportunities

History A Level is a popular and highly regarded qualification by both Higher Education establishments and employers. It opens career pathways specifically involving historical skills, e.g. archaeologist, archivist, curator and teacher. However, History is also of general educational value and many who achieve high positions in business, government, law and the media hold History degrees. History students from Penwith College have gone on to study a wider variety of degrees and have gained access to a range of careers including law, teaching, journalism, politics, advertising and positions in the heritage sector.

Further information

You will be provided with textbooks for both of the examined units that have been written specifically for the course we are studying. All resources used in lectures will available to you on our Moodle pages which also contain a wealth of additional material to support wider reading and independent research. We stock a range of journals in our library and you will also have access to all of the main History periodicals through our e-library. We have an extensive catalogue of documentaries and podcasts that will be available to you to view at home and we keep the library stocked with the latest publications on both the Cold War and the British Empire.

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Truro and Penwith College directly.

Last updated date: 15 June 2016

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