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A Vision of History Teaching and

Learning: Thoughts on History


Education in Secondary Schools
Kaya YILMAZ, Ph.D.
Marmara University

This article presents a vision of effective and


pedagogically meaningful history teaching
and learning in schools. Bringing to the fore
the lack of attention to the philosophy of history, the article first explains the philosophical
and epistemological underpinnings of history
or the perspectives on the nature of historical
knowledge on which the vision is based. It
then elucidates what goals history education
should strive for, what history should be
taught, how history curriculum should be
developed, what is expected of teachers in
implementing history curriculum, and what
qualifications history teachers should possess
to effectively practice their profession. It advocates constructivist pedagogy and the disciplinary approach to school history, calling for
collaboration between education faculty and
historians in the preparation of history teachers.
Introduction
Any given vision of history education in secondary and high schools is supposed to draw
on philosophy of history, different learning theories, the conceptual and empirical works on
history education, and the realities of actual
social studies or history classrooms. Therefore,
the vision of effective and pedagogically meaningful history education offered in this article is
based on different schools of historical thought,
theoretical frameworks for thinking about
teaching and learning, research findings on history education, and the implications of both
theoretical and empirical works for the teaching
and learning of history in schools.
A vision of history teaching and learning first
and foremost necessitates an adequate explanation about ones philosophy of history as a discipline in that epistemological and conceptual
frameworks shape and color ones approach to
dealing with issues in history education. Hence,
I first define history and then elucidate my perspective on the nature of historical knowledge
to provide the epistemological and philosophical basis of effective history education in
schools.

2008 The University of North Carolina Press

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Definition of History & the Nature of Historical
Knowledge
History, as a term, refers not only to what happened in the past but also to the account of the
past events, situations, and processes etc. As
one of the disciplines among social sciences,
history represents accounts of multilayered and
multifaceted human experiences across time
and space. Historians try to explain what happened in the past by processing primary sources
through such historical procedures and skills as
selecting a topic, framing questions or hypotheses, corroborating sources, gathering and weighing evidence, building a thesis about the object
of the study under investigation, and substantiating the thesis on the basis of logical reasoning,
evidential argument, and imaginative thinking
or historical empathy.
History teachers need to have a thorough understanding of the nature of history as a domain of
knowledge in that epistemological beliefs affect
not only their approaches to reading and understanding historical texts but also their instructional practices (Wineburg, 1991a/b; Yilmaz,
2008a). If teachers lack an adequate understanding of the conceptual foundations of the
subject they teach, they are likely to misrepresent content by simplifying it (Wineburg &
Wilson, 1991, p.333). As Matthews (1998)
argued, if teachers are to make effective curricular decisions in enhancing a deeper student
engagement with the subject, they should have
well-developed conceptions of the nature of
their subject area. Last but not least, the need for
protecting students from political manipulations of different interest groups necessitates a
satisfactory understanding of the nature of history on teachers part (Yilmaz, 2008a).
There are two sharply contrasting perspectives
on the nature of historical knowledge. These are
idealist and scientific views of history. While
historians who stick to the former view, history
as an art, are called idealist or autonomist, those
historians who advocate the latter perspective,
history as a science, are called scientist or
assimilationist. Embracing a holistic approach
rather than a dualist approach, I see the debate
over the nature of history as resting on a continuum. From my standpoint, the perspectives of
idealist and scientist historians represent
38

two ends of the continuum of historical tradition. I believe that one does not have to identify
his position with either pole. My own viewpoint on the nature of history is not fixed but
remains closer to the art rather than the science
end of the continuum.
I see history more as an art than as a science in
that history has a lot more to do with art than
science in terms of the way the historian reconstructs or interprets historical events. The past
itself or historical data do not have meaning in
themselves. The past is composed of countless
numbers of disconnected historical facts. As
such, it is formless and gains meaning and form
only through the historians ability to imagine
and to see the past events and situations from
the viewpoints of historical agents. Imagination
plays a big role in establishing the relationship
between disconnected historical facts. Linking
a given event to its context or detecting a given
historical process demands thoughtful imagination. In addition to imagination, the historians
values and beliefs affect his or her selection of
the topic, questions, and interpretations, which
is another reason why I see history as an art
than a science in terms of its nature.
The ontological status of the object of historical
study, the past events, also makes history come
closer to the art end of the continuum. As
opposed to natural events, historical events do
not lend themselves to observation and repeatability because the past has gone. As a corollary,
rather than a hypothetic-deductive model of
reasoning derived from natural sciences, an
inductive along with an abductive model of
thinking and thought process is needed for the
historian to reconstruct the past. The historian
attempts to understand the past by viewing historical events within their contexts through the
eyes of the past people. The historian thinks
himself or herself into the thoughts, motivations, values, beliefs, and actions of his or her
historical agents to be able to discern how historical events developed.
Another reason why I view history as an art has
to do with my epistemological stance toward
historical knowledge. From epistemological
perspective, I view historical knowledge as a
human construction. As such, it cannot have

A Vision of History Teaching and Learning


any meaning independently of human mind.
The nature and function of historical explanations are not fixed but get changed as new evidence and innovative conceptual frameworks
make a shift in historians perceptions of the
past. Changes in epistemological, theoretical,
philosophical, political, and moral viewpoints
inevitably lead to the reinterpretation of historical events and processes. The present circumstances or the historians concern with the present also influence his or her understanding and
interpretation of the past. That is why even
though a given historical interpretation can be
regarded as right or accurate, it may come to be
questioned or replaced by a new, challenging
interpretation. Therefore, I endorse the notion
that historical knowledge is not absolute and
given, but rather open to further interpretation
on the basis of shifting discourses of historians.
This means that there is not a single correct
view of any historical event or process under
study, but there are many equally plausible versions or correct views, each requiring its own
style of representation via narrative plot structures (Jenkins, 1999, 2003; White, 1987;
Ankersmit, 1999, 2001).
It is the very nature of historical knowledge
itself that demands not a single but multiple
views of the past. Any given event in the past is
open to equally correct multiple interpretations.
This is because historical knowledge is not
value-free but subjective as well as theoryladen, and thus it inevitably reflects a point of
view. Other reasons for the equally plausible
multiple interpretations of the past also stem
from the nature of historical knowledge, which
can be summarized as follows: the historians
frame of reference, race, ethnicity, disciplinary
orientations, and so forth result in the construction of different explanations about the past
events; innovative conceptual frameworks or
movements in historiography keep the interpretation of the past changing (i.e., the same historical event can be interpreted from a feminist,
cultural, sociological, socialist, Marxist, postmodern, linguistic points of view, etc. That is,
conceptual frameworks for thinking about history produce differing interpretations of the
past events, each bringing certain historical
concepts and forces to the fore in the analysis of

the past such as the concept of gender in the


case of feminist approach to the past and mode
of productions and social conflicts among classes in the case of Marxist or materialist view of
history); the use of language, narrative plot
structures, literary tropes and verbal structures
affect the historians thoughts and perceptions
and thus ultimately shape his or her attempt to
construct historical knowledge; and social and
cultural climate of the era in which the historian lives affects his or her explanations of past
events, people, processes, and institutions
(Yilmaz, 2008a, p.161).
I should note that my perspective on historical
knowledge or the way historical explanations
come into being is guided, to a great extent, by
the principles of the linguistic or discursive
turn in history. The works of Hayden White,
Keith Jenkins, Frank Ankersmit, and Sol Cohen,
all of whom are the practitioners of the discursive approach to history, have an impact on my
view of history. The linguistic turn with a postmodernist twist postulates that an historical
account of any event or process is constrained
by the historians background, conventions of
language, genre, mode of emplotment, argument, and cultural or social contextual issues.
Historians are affected by the ideology of their
times and cannot get rid of their sex, class, ethnicity or cultural background and so on. The
historians exposure to a particular culture during a particular period influences not only their
conceptual frameworks but also their selection
of the object of the study and interpretation of it.
That is, historians subjectivity, academic training, philosophical outlook, theoretical orientations, ideological positions and socio-cultural
backgrounds inevitably come into play in shaping their explanations of the past. As Cohen
(1999) argued, historians purposefully attempt
to persuade their audience with some sociopolitical or ideological aim in mind. By means of
rhetorical conventions and strategies, historians
intend to persuade readers that his or her
account of the past is truer, more objective, and
worthier than another version and this in turn
leads readers to develop a particular attitude
toward the past and the present and to take particular course of action in the present (Cohen,
1999, p.69).
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To sum up, history teachers need to know that
history is an interpretive enterprise. Every
record of the past is open to multiple interpretations. Any version of history inevitably
reflects a particular point of view, comment and
judgment. As the products of particular historical circumstances, historical knowledge and
accounts are constructed, interpreted, and tentative in nature.
Purposes for teaching history
If the teacher has not yet built a strong sense of
why history is taught, he or she is unlikely to
make reasoned and informed decisions about
planning, implementing and assessing history
curriculum and instruction. Hence, history
teachers should have a clear conception of what
purposes history should serve in the culture
and society in which they live. Because of the
centrality of such awareness to the teaching and
learning of history, I explore the most important
goals and purposes of history education.
History teaching needs to be viewed from a
broader perspective within the context of social
studies education in that history as a school
subject represents one strand of social studies
curriculum. So, it is reasonable to expect the
goals of social studies education to underlie the
purposes for teaching history. Social studies as
a school subject aims to promote social understanding and civic efficacy on the part of students who are going to take the office of citizenship. More specifically, the fundamental goal of
teaching social studies in secondary schools is
to help students become responsible, critical,
reflective, and active citizens who can make
informed and reasoned decisions about the
societal issues confronting the local, state, and
global community respectively (NCSS, 1993).
Students are expected to identify and act upon
societal problems of different sorts for the common and individual good.
Students attainment of those expectations
depends, to a large extent, on the historical skill
of critically evaluating not only information but
also the logical and evidential bases of an argument or a thesis. Students need to be acquainted with the historical methodology to help
facilitate the effective decision making skills
needed in life outside the classroom walls. To
that end, school history should be aimed at
40

developing students historical thinking and


reasoning skills by providing them with historical knowledge, procedures, and skills, by
means of which they as young citizens can distinguish facts from opinions; detect biases, prejudices, and unwarranted claims; weigh contrasting evidence; recognize the core of ones
argument and its logic along with the strength
of evidence; and critically evaluate others positions and perspectives.
Once students historical thinking skills - which
are applicable and transferable to everyday
affairs and problems - are developed and
enhanced, students are likely to recognize when
they are exploited and manipulated by certain
interest groups. School history, therefore, first
and foremost should teach students how to
approach and use historical information critically from multiple perspectives. It should
increase students capacity to view the past
from different angles rather than impose a certain perspective on students. History teaching
should change students conceptions of history
by encouraging them to identify and act upon
the most important historical questions about
the past. In other words, history instruction
should not treat historical knowledge as an end
in itself but as a means to increase students
ability to understand complex human experiences across time and space. The ultimate goal
of teaching history should be to help students
enlarge their understanding of the increasingly
interdependent social world and their place in
it.
History should not be used as a means to socialize students of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds into the mainstream or the
dominant groups world view and culture by
transmitting that privileged groups cultural
norms and values to students (i.e., history as a
tool for cultural transmission). Rather, history
should be used to help students not only recognize their own cultural roots, identity, and heritage, but also gain insight into other peoples
cultures and world views. School history
should instill in students a recognition of cultural pluralism and tolerant attitudes toward
different ethnic groups. Likewise, it should help
students sharpen their awareness of the
Eurocentric or ethnocentric views of the past

A Vision of History Teaching and Learning


(For instance, the statement that America was
discovered in the 15th century presents a good
example of the Eurocentric view of history.
Even though this proposition may be a fact for
European Americans, it is not as such for
American-Indians. Looking at this event from
American-Indians life experiences and viewpoints make it clear that Europeans exploration
or arrival to the new world is not a discovery for
Native-Americans. Even though it is commonly
taught as a fact, it actually reflects a particular
view of the past or an interpretation of a wellknown historical event from the perspective of
certain cultural or ethnicity groups, EuropeanAmericans).
Curriculum, instruction, and the teacher
What history should be taught? Which content
knowledge should be emphasized in history
curriculum? How should history curricula be
developed? What is the role of teachers in curriculum development and implementation?
How should history teachers go about designing, implementing, and assessing curricular and
instructional activities? What methods are more
appropriate and useful to accomplish the goals
of teaching history? These and similar kinds of
open-ended, controversial, and value-laden
questions about history curriculum and instruction deserve adequate care and attention and
are central to the effective history teaching and
learning. I will draw on constructivist pedagogy, disciplinary approach to history teaching,
and Danielsons (2007) framework for effective
teaching to provide answers for these interrelated questions about the history curricula,
instruction and the teacher.
Because history is composed of a vast amount
of information and it is neither possible nor sensible to teach students everything about the
past, the need for making a selection from
among enormous historical knowledge is
inevitable. The process involved in the selection of historical topics or the development of
history curriculum should be made not only
accessible and visible to the public scrutiny but
also open to public debate and revision if needed. The assumptions and criteria used to select
topics to be included in history curricula need
to be overtly stated. The significance of the topics selected should be demonstrated especially

in terms of their potential to promote students


critical historical thinking skills and to increase
their understanding of the social world and
their roles in it. National history curricula
should be tailored to local needs and circumstances in order for students to find the curriculum relevant to their lives. In addition to being
culturally inclusive and sensitive to diversity,
the content of history curricula should have
connection with real life outside the school.
History teachers voices, perspectives and experiences need to be incorporated into the effort to
design history curricula. As previous studies
(McNeil, 1988; Thornton, 1991) have indicated,
one of the reasons why school reform movements have consistently failed has to do with
the fact that teachers views and teaching experiences were neither valued nor incorporated
into the curriculum reform efforts, as a result of
which most teachers became resentful and
remained suspicious of what was imposed
upon them. To avoid repeating the same mistake, history teachers should not be seen as
mere practitioners of curriculum. Rather, when
building history curricula, the pedagogical
expertise and first-hand experiences of history
teachers in teaching history should be recognized and valued by giving them voice at the
very beginning of history curriculum development at both the national and local levels.
What is expected of teachers in implementing
history curricula? What qualifications and characteristics should history teachers possess to
effectively practice their profession? First of all,
teachers need to have a strong understanding of
the conceptual foundations of history as a discipline. An understanding of the nature of history as a domain of knowledge or a discipline is
necessary if history teachers are to help students enjoy exploring different aspects of the
subject, coming to grips with complex human
experiences in the past. Thus, teachers should
have a satisfactory knowledge of and skills in
the substantive and syntactic dimensions of history; i.e., knowing the structure of the discipline, its different modes of historical explanations, and the historical procedures and skills
needed to construct explanations about the
past. Without substantial knowledge and
understanding of the concepts, procedures, and
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skills in history, teachers may fall short of realizing the goal of helping students develop historys habits of mind such as the acquisition
and practice of historical insights, perspectives,
understanding, and thoughtful judgment
beyond more generic skills of critical thinking
(NCHE, 2002).
It is, therefore, essential to bring the disciplinary approach to bear on history education in
schools. As Gardner and Mansilla (1994)
stressed, if students are to experience quality
education, they need to explore the disciplinary
tools in their engagement with the subject matter. Refuting the arguments of the critics whose
critiques lead some educators to see the disciplines a significant part of the problem in
schools today, these authors argued:
We maintain that the scholarly disciplines
represent the formidable achievements of
talented human beings, toiling over the
centuries, to approach and explain issues
of enduring importance. Shorn of disciplinary knowledge, human beings are quickly reduced to the level of ignorant children (p.199)
Furthermore, teaching for understanding rather
than memorization requires, Mansilla and
Gardner (1997) argued, an understanding of
the disciplinary modes of thinking embodied in
the methods by which knowledge is constructed, the forms in which knowledge is made public, and the purposes that drive inquiry in the
domain (p.382). Other scholars also emphasized the importance of the disciplinary
approach to teaching. Wineburg, who was
awarded for his scholarly contribution to the
teaching and learning of history, and Wilson
(1991) made an argument similar to that of
Gardner and Mansilla. They stressed that if the
goals for teaching history are to be realized, it is
indispensable for teachers of history to understand the context and the nature of the discipline. Similarly, Seixas (2001) argued, unless
models in the discipline of history are identified and used in history teaching and learning,
any framework for exploring students thoughts
about history is destined to remain murky (p.
546). Alternative forms of history need not be
viewed as burdensome or overwhelming for
students to cope with, as Pomson and Hoz
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(1998) stated, but be considered as cognitive


agents fielding the rival attentions of different
views of the past. Drawing on the insights that
historical frameworks provide is crucial not
only to arrive at a rational way of teaching history but also to adequately address the fundamental issues in history education (Lee, 1983).
History curriculum and instruction, therefore,
should incorporate recent changes in the discipline of history, i.e., different theoretical frameworks for studying history such as the postmodern approach to the study of the past and
the linguistic turn in history.
In short, history teachers should understand the
substantive and syntactic dimensions of history
as a discipline. They need to know both the historical knowledge, the structure of the discipline, and the inquiry methods used by historians, i.e., constructing historical explanations by
processing historical information via historical
research. An understanding of what it means to
know and to do history is essential for history
teachers to see which knowledge, concepts,
skills, and values are of foremost importance to
students in their learning.
Having a command of the substantive and syntactic components of history is a necessary but
not a sufficient condition for effective history
instruction. The fact that a teacher is welltrained in the discipline of history does not
mean or guarantee that he or she can effectively
engage students in the subject. There is another
type of knowledge that history teachers should
have if their instruction is to successfully realize the goals of schooling in general and the
goals of history teaching in particular. It is
generic and subject-specific pedagogical knowledge that helps the teacher transform the subject matter knowledge into effective learning
experiences for students. Instruction can be
seen like a scissor. Content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) are the two
blades of the instructional scissor. In order to
function effectively, these two blades should
work together simultaneously.
PCK is defined as the blending of content and
pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organized,
represented and adapted to the diverse interests
and abilities of learners, and presented for

A Vision of History Teaching and Learning


instruction (Shulman, 1987, p. 8). It is the kind
of knowledge that helps the teacher to formulate the most useful forms of representation of
the subject matter through such means as
analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations (Shulman, 1986, p.
9). PCK is composed of such theoretical and
empirical knowledge as how learning occurs,
how students develop cognitively, socially and
emotionally, how students approach learning,
and how to employ different types of teaching
strategies. History teachers need to have a satisfactory knowledge of how students learn in history or construct understanding and meaning
out of curricular activities to be able to teach the
subject effectively and to help students develop
historical understanding and consciousness. In
addition, history teachers should recognize and
address students misconceptions about the
subject, the shortcomings in their understanding of the past, and the concepts that students
find difficult to learn in history. They should
also know which concepts or skills should be
introduced first before students can cope with
other more complex concepts. That is, history
teachers need to know the relationship among
historical concepts and teach them accordingly
in order to avoid incomplete student understanding of the subject and to help students
develop increasingly more sophisticated understanding of the past and the present. The more
knowledgeable a history teacher is about pedagogical content knowledge, the more likely it is
that he or she is going to adjust curriculum and
instruction to students abilities, learning styles,
pedagogical preferences, needs, interests, and
cultural backgrounds.
History teachers should be familiar with the
recent shift in the perspective on what learning
is and how it occurs and then design their
instruction accordingly. From the constructivist
perspective, learning is an active process of constructing understanding and meaning by linking new information about a topic with what is
already known, previously acquired knowledge
and experiences. This view of learning requires
that instruction be designed from the perspective of the learner rather than the perspective of
the teacher. Because it is cognitive and constructivist learning theories that emphasize the
learner and the construction of knowledge, his-

tory teachers are expected to draw on these


learning theories, rather than the old-fashioned
behaviorist approach, to develop their repertoire of instructional practices. Teaching models
based on the concept of learner-centeredness
which grows out of constructivist learning theories, therefore, should characterize history
instruction.
A caveat about learner-centered instruction or
active learning needs to be reminded. When
employing instructional methods involving
active student learning, the teacher should first
consider not whether the task at hand demands
active student engagement but whether it is
intellectually challenging or academically rigorous. Whatever instructional activities the
teacher develops should first and foremost promote a sophisticated understanding of the past
on the part of students rather than just capture
the attention of students who might find the
task enjoyable. Another important point to note
is that the teacher should determine how to
engage students with active learning by making
connections between theory and practice on the
basis of his or her experiences. There are different theories and approaches about how to practice learner-centered instruction. They do not
necessarily work for every teacher, every learner, and every class in schools. Therefore, rather
than insist on practicing a given learning theory
or teaching method, the history teacher should
test it against his own and students abilities,
styles, and experiences and then decide
whether that method works with him and his
students in practice.
In addition to the knowledge of how children
learn, the history teacher should know about
the differences in learner characteristics at different ages and grades. History teachers knowledge of their students should include their students mental, social, and emotional characteristics in each stage of development in order to
make subject matters relevant, interesting, and
meaningful to students. Students differ from
each other in terms of their talents, interests,
preferred approaches to learning, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds etc. These differences among students should be recognized in
order to enable each individual student to enjoy
meaningful and rewarding learning experi43

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ences. There are also some students with special needs in almost every classroom.
Instructional planning and evaluation should
take these factors into account in order to
accommodate each unique learner.
Knowledge of students out of school experiences is also essential to make connection
between the classroom and the real life. If history teachers are conversant with the knowledge of everyday events, activities, interests etc.
that students bring to the school with them,
they can not only make history instruction relevant to students lives, but also increase students interest in and motivation to learn the
subject. As documented by the previous
research on social studies education, students
have a very negative attitude toward history and
find history instruction boring, dull, useless,
and meaningless. This poses a great problem for
history educators to cope with. Without positive attitudes and perceptions, students are
unlikely to take responsibility for their own
learning and have little chance of learning history. Pointing out the importance of affective
factors in learning, Marzano (1992) states:
Psychologists have begun to view classroom climate more as a function of attitudes and perceptions of the learner than
elements external to the learner. If students have certain attitudes and perceptions, they have a mental climate conducive to learning. If those attitudes and
perceptions are not in place, learners have
a mental climate not conducive to learning (p.20).
One of the most important reasons why students dislike history has to do with the fact that
they cannot see the connection between the
remote past and their immediate experiences in
the present (Yilmaz, 2008b). To overcome students negative views of the subject and to
increase their interest in it, history teachers
should have students see the relevance of the
past to the present in pedagogically meaningful
ways by employing such strategies as historical
empathy, historical inquiry, oral history, and
family history. Making comparisons between
the past and the present is central to the efforts
to make history relevant and interesting to students. Technology tools, especially the Internet
44

or the World Wide Web, can help facilitate that


process by providing the teacher and students
alike with an opportunity to have easy access to
both contemporary sources such as news on
current events and primary historical documents such as diaries, letters, pictures, movie
clips etc.
History teachers should also be concerned with
improving their instructional practices by
means of reflection. Reflection is one of the
most effective ways for improving practices on
the basis of experiences. The ability and willingness to reflect on teaching is the key to
teacher growth and professional development.
Therefore, from time to time, history teachers
should take time to reflect on the ways they
plan, implement, and assess their lessons in
order to get an accurate impression of the lessons effectiveness and of the extent to which
instructional goals were met. They need to figure out what worked well and what didnt work
by evaluating the effectiveness of their lessons
after instruction. Teachers reflection should
focus especially on understanding the consequences of their practices and gaining insight
into the level of students engagement with
instructional activities and responses to the
learning context. On the basis of thoughtful
reflections, they should try to develop new
ideas and ways about how to teach the same
subject more effectively next time.
Lastly, since knowledge keeps growing rapidly
in this information age, history teachers need to
be devoted to improving their knowledge of
content and pedagogy to keep abreast of the
new developments in educational theory and
research. As opposed to being stagnant and stable, content and pedagogy are in a state of rapid
change and growth. Keeping in touch with professional organizations, reading educational
journals, and participating in regional conferences and professional workshops are necessary for history teachers to stay on their cutting
edge.
Conclusion and Recommendations
This article offered a vision of effective and pedagogically meaningful history education by
drawing on the philosophy of history, a constructivist view of curriculum, instruction and
learning, and the theoretical and empirical

A Vision of History Teaching and Learning


works on the teaching and learning of history in
school settings. The epistemological underpinnings of the discipline of history are presented
on the basis of the two sharply contrasting
views on the nature of historical knowledge,
history as an art vs. history as a science. It is
argued that history is much closer to the art end
of the art-science continuum in terms of the
ways historical knowledge is produced.
In contrast to natural events, historical events
and processes can be neither observed nor
repeated since the past has gone. Hence, it takes
imaginative thinking to establish the relationship between a virtually limitless number of
disconnected historical facts and to connect historical events to their context. That is why the
historian tries to understand the past events
within their contexts by means of historical
empathy, the ability to see and judge the past in
its own terms by attempting to discern the
thoughts, motivations, values, and beliefs
behind the historical agents actions. This subjective view, along with the changes in theoretical, philosophical, ideological, political, and
moral viewpoints in turn, lead to the reinterpretation of the past, keeping historical knowledge dynamic, tentative and subject to change.
Conventions of language, rhetorical strategies,
genre, and mode of emplotment also affect the
construction of historical knowledge. For these
reasons, history is basically an interpretive
endeavor. Every historical event is open to multiple interpretations and every historical
account reflects a particular point of view, comment and judgment.
The nature of history needs to be taken into
account in the teaching and learning of school
history. History instruction should help students see the tentative and tangential nature of
history by exposing them to the different interpretations of the same historical events through
primary and secondary documents. Introducing
students to the historical methodology, it
should promote students willingness to critically evaluate historical information, argument
and a thesis from multiple perspectives. Rather
than treat historical knowledge as an end in
itself, it should use it as a means to increase students ability to understand complex human
experiences across time and space. The ulti-

mate goal of history education should be to


develop students higher-order thinking, complex reasoning and decision making skills needed in life outside the school and to enlarge their
understanding of the increasingly interdependent social world and their place in it.
Accomplishing these ends demands the kind of
a history teacher who has not only a command
of the substantive and syntactic dimensions of
history as a discipline but also a strong understanding of the subject-specific pedagogical
knowledge. The history teacher is expected to
make the subject matters relevant, interesting,
and meaningful to students by making connections between history content and students out
of school experiences. He or she also needs to
employ such instructional strategies as historical empathy, historical inquiry, oral history, and
family history in order to help students see the
relevance of the past to the present and to their
lives.
Helping realize the vision of history education
offered in this article necessitates a change in
the training of history teachers. Currently, history as a school subject is taught by social studies
teachers, many of whom lack sufficient training
in the discipline of history. According to
research findings, school history suffers a
higher rate of out-of-field teaching than either
mathematics or science because a majority of
social studies teachers do not have either a
major or minor in history (Ravitch, 2000,
p.143). What exaggerates the problem about history education is the fact that, not disciplinary
scholarship, but professional practice characterizes teaching methods courses in preservice
programs (McDiarmid & Vinten-Johansen, 2000,
p.157). Few teacher educators are engaged in
scholarly research in any discipline and may
have little understanding of what historians and
social scientists do as scholars (p.157).
Given that many social studies educators are
not trained in the discipline of history, it is recommended that social studies educators cooperate and collaborate with historians in order to
help prepare history teachers who can blend
history content with pedagogy in their effort to
design pedagogically effective history curriculum and instruction. Having social studies
teachers take a course on historiography can
45

The High School Journal Dec 2008/Jan 2009


greatly facilitate this process in that historiography helps illuminate different movements in
history or schools of historical thought and their
philosophical, theoretical, ideological, and
methodological underpinnings. It promotes
disciplinary reflexivity and methodological and
theoretical awareness through discussions of
the history of the discipline, epistemological
problems and the theoretical influences of other
disciplines (Hitchcock, Shoemaker & Tosh,
2000, p. 49). While the importance of historiography in history teaching and learning has long
been appreciated in the UK and Europe, that is
not the case in the US (Ahonen, 2001;
Hitchcock et al., 2000). Therefore, social studies
education departments need to incorporate a
course on historiography to provide pre-service
social studies teachers with an opportunity to
read, discuss, reflect on, modify, and change
their understandings of history on the basis of
various approaches to the past.
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