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Swiss History in a Nutshell

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 34 Number 3 Summer 2017

Grégoire Nappey, Mix and Remix

Bergli Books (2010)

ISBN 978-3-90-525219-4

Paperback, 91 pages, CHF 19.90

While teaching a group of apprentices, I mentioned that I couldn’t remember the specifics of why Switzerland was neutral and when this occurred. There was silence and I mentioned I knew there was an awful battle where the Swiss lost many lives. This was the Battle of Marignano which was fought in 1515 and was the first step toward neutrality. After this battle, the Swiss never intervened outside its own frontiers again (Swiss History in a Nutshell, p.27).

Of course, many of Europe’s battlefields were drenched with Swiss blood as the Swiss were noted mercenaries and fought among themselves for their Catholic and Protestant beliefs. This I learned from my in-laws, but this was also very interestingly described and illustrated in this delightful book, Swiss History in a Nutshell (pp. 30-36). Walking through the old towns of this country and noting the many ruins and castles scattered throughout the cities and countryside, one can see evidence of the battles described in this book and how the ancestors of our students lived. Why not use this book as a field guide when or if you are out with a class? You could also impress a wide range of people by mentioning important events at a given time.

One other example of how this book assisted me in another class was the discussion on women’s rights, which was recently in the news highlighting the discrepancies between male and female employees’ salaries for the same job. The students had asked why I came to Switzerland and I responded with why I almost didn’t come because of the date when women got the right to vote. After some discussion and disagreement, an inaccurate but close date was decided upon – 1972. The correct date is 1971 (p. 78).

This semi-quiet, Shangri-La of an Alpine country was and is anything but, as this book suggests through descriptions of key points of the country’s history. The book’s use of illustrations with timelines, maps, and informational inserts adds to its readability. The book is divided into six main segments, starting with pre-historic times before Switzerland was a political entity to the important date of 1291, when the oldest written record of the pact between the original cantons of Switzerland was signed. It concludes with the present times when Switzerland is discussing its place in the world and with the European Union.

This book is designed as an interesting overview of Swiss history and development. It is useful for personal knowledge and enjoyment but can also be easily adapted for class use, for which examples are provided. However, teachers of primary students who are learning their country’s history would have also a relevant background text or teaching points in English.

The Appendices offer a parallel timeline of the events that took place in Switzerland and in the rest of the world, a comparative study of which could lead to an interesting board game. The 26 cantons are neatly described with relevant information which could also be adapted.

Teachers of more-advanced students could give a pop quiz to see what points their students know or have forgotten, or administer a jig saw reading exercise with questions and answers based on the information presented in the book. Swiss History in a Nutshell may also be used as a helpful guideline for an area of interest that could be researched in more detail elsewhere and later used for either a presentation or written assignment for a class mark.

Anyone teaching adult conversation classes will also find in this book a wealth of resources to draw from. Basically, the design of the book and illustrations included in it make it applicable to a wide range of levels, students, and teaching purposes.

An experienced teacher saw me reading this book and asked where I got it. When I mentioned I was writing a review for ETAS Journal, she stated she’d like to write a review to get this book. Fortunately, I got it first and my copy is very well written in and highlighted for my future travels around this country or for potential class material.

If you are interested in reviewing a book, check out the books reviews list online or email the Book Reviews Editor to get a copy of an item for your professional needs.

Elizabeth Ulrich

Volkshochschule Solothurn