In the Critics this week

Evans on history lessons, Foreman on the Mediterranean and Gray on American diplomacy.

In the history special in the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Richard J Evans addresses Michael Gove's argument that the current National Curriculum in history should be replaced with a British-focused narrative. Evans replies that "blaming the curriculum is wrong" and "far from being in a state of terminal decay ... history in schools is actually a success story". He notes that there is a strong smell of "Tory Euro-scepticism" in the view that too little British history is taught in schools and argues that forcing children to learn about British kings and queens is "a quack remedy for a misdiagnosed complaint" that would end up putting students off studying the subject altogether.

In Books, Amanda Foreman reviews Robert Holland's Blue Water Empire: the British in the Mediterranean since 1800, noting the irony in the fact that "the country that has had the greatest influence on Mediterranean affairs for the past two centuries is now seeking immunity from the region". According to Foreman, the book, while heavy going, is "an important corrective to current historical amnesia" and one that will "remain the definitive account of Anglo-Mediterranean history for years to come".

In the Books interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to historian Sir David Cannadine about his new book The Right Kind of History, which examines the teaching of history in English schools in the 20th century. Cannadine argues that the teaching of history is more controversial than the teaching of other subjects because there is no set global syllabus that people can follow. Of Michael Gove, Cannadine says: "I certainly hope that he thinks this book offers a lot of useful advice ... I am hoping it will persuade him that the major problem is that [history] needs to be made compulsory to the age of 16."

Also in the history special: John Gray reviews John Lewis Gaddis's new biography of George F Kennan and praises the book's ability to capture the complexity of Kennan's character, as well as his ultimate disillusionment with US foreign policy. Richard Overy is left disappointed byh Piers Paul Read's The Dreyfus Affair and David Herman reviews David Cesarani and Eric J Sundquist's new book Afterthe Holocaust.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Ryan Gilbey looks at the latest political biopics; Rachel Cooke shares her thoughts on BBC4's Jonathan Meades on France and Antonia Quirke discusses a new radio programme on the World Service. Plus: Sophie Elmhirst explains why a death festival is well worth a visit and Will Self on pizza.

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Marching against climate change in the age of Donald Trump

The People’s Climate Movement is as much about politics as science. That's its strength.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But the present generation are facing an awful lot of farewells: to the melting arctic, the dying Barrier Reef, and the general resilience of ecosystems around the world. As Margaret Atwood described it in her essay of the same name: “It’s not climate change, it’s everything change”.

The problem with “everything-change” is that it can be overwhelming. How do you even decide where to start?

The People’s Climate Movement want to begin by making visible the extent of concern out there. This weekend, a coalition of organisations have planned a protest march on the American capital. Between 50,000 -100,000 people are expected to attend, including eco-celebrities Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore and Richard Branson.

In London, a group called Campaign Against Climate Change, are co-ordinating a UK-based solidarity event. Protestors will meet at 11.30am in Old Palace yard opposite Parliament, then move to Westminster Bridge, where they will spell out a message to Theresa May: “Trump and May: Climate Disaster”.

For UK campaigners, this is a vital opportunity to raise awareness of the many ways in which action on climate change is under threat. Claire James from CACC outlines the sense of frustration and injustice that many feel with regard to recent government policy: “There have been 12,000 jobs lost last year in the solar industry alone and installation numbers have plummeted. Meanwhile fracking, hugely unpopular, is given determined backing.”

Ahead of the June election, campaigners are using the event to call for specific, cross-party commitments. One, fast-tracking the UK’s delayed Climate Change Plan. Two, ruling out new trade deals that compromise environmental, worker or consumer rights. And three, implementing a fair deal for UK solar and wind industry. “Our action on Saturday is about saying to the government – and to anyone who wants to form the next government – do your policies measure up?” says James.

These concrete political aims are an important way in which the movement differs from last weekend’s March For Science. That protest, inspired by the popularity of the Women’s March earlier this year, kept its message intentionally wide. As one of the London event’s organisers told DeSmog, it placed its emphasis on a generalised “celebration of science”. But this lack of specificity drew criticism from some quarters – for presenting a confusing message about politics' relationship to science.

Generalisation can also risk putting people off joining marches at all. Over the last few months, numerous friends have said they feel uncomfortable joining protests where they’re not sure that the person marching next to them is doing so for the same reasons. They’d feel much happier signing a petition, with a more specific and limited aim, they tell me.

This weekend’s climate marches risk drawing some of the same concerns. “Climate-change has become a synecdoche, a surrogate, for many causes in today’s world – social justice, the protection of nature, the rights of future generations, the defence of science,” says Professor Mike Hulme from King's College London. “Marches such as this give political voice to anti-establishment protest, but they don’t stop the climate changing.”

In addition, not all who want to see climate change prioritised by governments may agree over the exact course of action – with outright opposition to fracking, for instance, or to a third runway at Heathrow.

But this weekend’s movement also appears to have taken these lessons on board. First, they are putting their political aims up front. According the US event’s website, whereas the March for Science strove to be non-political, this movement “believes strongly in the need to call out the politicians.”

The link to the Paris Climate Treaty is helpful in this respect. The People’s Climate Movement traces its birth back to September 21 2014, the eve of the UN climate summit, when 400,000 people marched through New York demanding action on the climate crisis. This gives the movement a clear piece of legislation to both celebrate and defend.

And the London-based event is also attempting to re-think and expand what street-protests can achieve. “We’re doing a smaller action rather than a big march,” explains Claire James, “but we’re trying to have a real focus with the speakers on ‘what next’”. After the protest in Westminster, attendees are invited to join an afternoon of free food, activities and music, hosted by the food waste campaign Feedback. Here there will be even further opportunity to learn about the many ways – from divestment campaigns to local renewable energy groups – in which people can help press for change.

In this respect, public action against the climate crisis promises not to end when the walking does. And while protests won't stop climate change in themselves, joining a march can be a powerful reminder that we are not in this crisis alone.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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