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Society for History Education

Historical Empathy and Its Implications for Classroom Practices in Schools


Author(s): Kaya Yilmaz
Source: The History Teacher, Vol. 40, No. 3 (May, 2007), pp. 331-337
Published by: Society for History Education
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036827
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HistoricalEmpathyandItsImplicationsfor
ClassroomPracticesinSchools

KayaYilmaz
MarmaraUniversity,Istanbul,Turkey

MANY RESEARCHSTUDIEShaveshownhowstudentsengagewith
historicaldocuments,makesenseofthepast,anddevelophistoricalun-
derstandingtoconstructtheirownhistoricalknowledgeSome.ofthese
studieshavedealtspecificallywithempathyIdefine.empathyorhistorical
imaginationastheabilityto see andjudgethepastin itsowntermsby
tryingtounderstandthementality,framesofreference,beliefs,values,
intentions,andactionsofhistoricalagentsusinga varietyofhistorical
evidenceEmpathy.istheskilltore-enactthethoughtofa historicalagent
inone'smindortheabilitytoviewtheworldas itwasseenbythepeople
inthepastwithoutimposingtoday'svaluesonthepastThis.articleaims
tosynthesizethescholarlyliteratureaboutempathy,drawingontheworks
ofbothpastandrecentscholarshipinhistoryeducationItwill.showhow
educationalresearchersanddisciplinaryhistorianshaveviewed,discussed,
andstudiedthenotionofhistoricalempathyboththetheoreticaland
theempiricallevelsIt.willfirstpinpointtheconceptualissuessurround-
ingthetermandthenmoveontoexplaintheeffortstotranslatetheterm
fromtheoryintopractice.

DebatesabouttheMeaningoftheTerm
Thediscussionmust beginbyexamining
effortstodefinethenotionof
TheHistoryTeacher Volume40 Number3 Yilmaz
May 2007 a Kaya

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332 KayaYilmaz

historicalempathywithitsdifferentdimensionsDepending.onwherethe
termis used,ittakesonquitedifferentmeaningsBecause.empathyisas-
sumedtopurporttheaffectivedomainofhumanskillsinpeople'severyday
use,"toocommonly,peoplemisunderstandhistoricalempathyassympathy
orkindofappreciativesentimentThis.understandingofempathymeans
developingapositiveattitudeorfeelingtowardan individual,event,or
situationWithin."'thescholarlycommunity,thetermis assigneddiverse
meaningsbydifferentdisciplinesFor.instance,thefieldofpsychology
empathyisdefinedseventeenseparateways.Whether2anyofthemean-
that to canbe tothe
ings psychologistsassign empathy applicable study
ofhistory discussedbyeducationresearchersItis. arguedthatall of
psychologists'assignedmeaningsofthetermempathyareoflimiteduse
inhistoryinthatthereis a conceptualdifferencebetweenhistorians'and
psychologists'intendeduse ofthetermWhile.historiansareconcerned
withunderstandingthepastorthedistancebetweenthepastandpresent,
psychologistsareconcernedwiththepresentworld,andthusareableto
establishreciprocalcontextfora contemporaryrelationship.3
Forhistorians,empathyreferstoa combinationofintellectualandimagi-
nativecapacityThe.4termsometimesisusedas a synonymfor"perspective
taking.Making"'5 connectionbetweenhistoricalempathyandhistorical
understanding,LeeandAshbydefinethetermas "theabilityto see and
entertainasconditionallyappropriate,connectionsbetweenintentions,cir-
cumstances,andactions,andtoseehowanyparticularperspectivewould
actuallyhaveaffectedactionsinparticularcircumstancesAccording."6to
Barton,historicalempathyistheskilltorecognizehowpeopleinthepast
viewedtheircircumstances,evaluatedtheiropinions,madedecisions,and
howtheirperceptionswereshapedbytheirvalues,beliefs,andattitudes.7
Likewise,Downey,whopreferstheterm"perspectivetaking"totheterm
historicalempathy,definesthetermas theabilitytounderstandhistorical
characters'framesofreferenceonthebasisofhistoricalfactsandevents
withouttryingtoidentifyorsympathizewiththeirfeelings.8
Viewingempathyasa second-order,structural,andmetahistoricalcon-
cept,Lee statesthat"empathytendstobe usedtomeantheexplanation
eitherofactionitself,oroftheideas,beliefsandvaluesthatlie behind
actionsandsocialinstitutionsVanSledright."'explainshistoricalempathy
intermsofwhatitis not:"Empathydoesnottaketheformofa simple
andtemporarypropensity'to feellike'or 'walkin theshoesof' those
wholivedbeforeus 'as thoughtheywereus.' Ratherhistoricalempathy
demandsconsiderablethoughtfuleffort."10IntheNationalStandardsfor
history,empathyisdefinedas"theabilitytodescribethepastthroughthe
eyesandexperiencesofthosewhowerethere,as revealedthroughtheir
literature,art,artifacts,andthelike,andtoavoid'present-mindedness,'

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Historical andIts 333
Empathy Implications
judgingthepastsolelyintermsofthenormsandvaluesoftoday.""

TheNatureand CharacteristicFeaturesofHistoricalEmpathy
Educationresearchershaveusuallyexplainedthenatureofhistorical
empathywithinthecontextofhistoricalinquiryandhistoricalunderstand-
ingThey.havereferredtoandmadeuseofdisciplinaryhistoryperspective
inelucidatingthecharacteristicfeaturesofhistoricalempathyThat.is,their
framesofreferencewithrespecttohistoricalempathyaregenerallybased on
disciplinaryhistoryFor.instance,Fosterhas claimedthathistorical
Davishas
empathyliesatthecoreofhistoricalinquirySimilarly,.12 argued,
"Empathyconstitutesoneoftheessentialelementsofhistoricalthink-
ingandrigoroushistoricalinquirythatresultindeepenedunderstanding
withincontextFor.themostpart,itis intellectualnature,butcertainly
itmayincludeemotional Assertingthathistoricalempathy
dimensions."13
shouldnotbe basedsimplyon exercisesin imagination,overidentifica-
tion,orsympathy,FosterandYeagerstate,"Thedevelopmentofhistori-cal
empathyinstudentsisa consideredandactiveprocess,embeddedin
thehistorical Takingintoaccountthenature,processes,and
method."a4
purposesofdisciplinaryhistoryandhistoricalinquirywithinthecontext
ofsecondaryschoolclassrooms,Fosterhasidentifiedsixcharacteristics
orcomponentsofhistoricalempathyintermsofwhatempathyinvolves
ordoesnotinvolveHis.pointsareas followsHistorical.empathy:
* *
doesnotinvolveimagination,identification,orsympathy,
involvesunderstandingpeople'sactionsinthepast,
* involvesathroughappreciationofhistoricalcontext, *
demandsmultipleformsofevidenceandperspective, *
requiresstudentstoexaminetheirownperspectives, *
encourageswell-groundedbuttentativeconclusions.'5
WhatDoes It TaketoEngageinHistoricalEmpathy?
Engaginginhistoricalempathyisbothdemandingandchallengingfor
studentsevenattheknowledgelevel,thelowestrankofeducationalobjec-
tivesFirst.ofall,studentsmustknowmoreratherthanfewerhistorical
facts,concepts,andinterpretationstopracticeempathyLikewise,.16inorder
tosuccessfullyemployanddevelophistoricalempathy,studentsmust:
* accessauthentichistoricalsources,engagingincriticalexamina-
tionofthosesourcesandunderstandingthenatureofhistorical
conclusions,"
* havea balanceofimaginativespeculationandmethodicalinvesti-
* gation,18
relivethethoughtsofpastindividualsthroughtheheuristicof
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334 KayaYilmaz
contextualization,19

* andunderstandthe
"examine,appreciate,
of in perspectives people

the andto renderthem past


to intelligible contemporaryminds,"20

* makereasonedevidentialreconstructioninadditionto taking
to reconstructasetof
position
andattendant beliefs,values,goals,

thathistorical
feelings agentshad,21

* in sustainedeffortand
engage
to their thoughtfulstrategy suspend

worldviewswhen
present
the in orderto avoida examining past

ofthe
presentistunderstanding
the past,i.e.,understanding past

eventson theirowntermswithout them ourcon- judging through

temporarycriteria.22

TheoryIntoPractice:
for
PracticalSuggestions ExercisingEmpathy
Inadditiontoapproachingthenotionofhistoricalempathyfromatheo-
reticalperspective,scholarsalsohavedealtwiththetermattheempirical
level.Theyhaveprovidedsuggestionsabouthowthehistoryteachercan
benefitfromhistoricalempathybyemployingitas a teachingtoolin the
classroomAccording.toPortal,ittakesfivestepsforstudentstobe ableto
engageinempathyanddeveloptheirperspectivetakingskillsTo. practice
historicalempathy,studentsshouldbe able to:
1) projecttheirownthoughtsand feelingsintoa
situation, under fromtheir
2) distinguish
thehistorical period study own,

3) a
employ variety
ofreferencematerialsand sources contemporary

relatedto the are studying, topicthey

4) a
present particularperson
or situationin a thatextends way beyond

the to the
merelytypical encompass
circumstancesofthe unique case,

5) makeuse ofthetwo-sidednarrativeto illustratetheroleof


inadequatelyempathicrelationship
betweenthehistorical participants

in riseto or
giving misunderstanding,conflict, tragedy.23
Concernedwithhowtotranslatetheconstructsofhistoricalempathy
intomeaningfulclassroompractices,Fosteralso has offeredvaluablesug-
gestionsforteachersofhistoryHe. recommendedthatteachers:
* focusona puzzlingandparadoxicalsituationinthepastwhileprac-
ticingempathyexercisesinordertoinitiatecuriosityamongstudents
andtohelpthemdistinguishtheremotepastperiodfromtherecent
past,
* providestudentswithsomeknowledgeofhistoricalcontextand
chronologybeforedelvingdeeplyintotheselectedtopicofstudy,
*
introduceawiderangeofprimaryandsecondarysourcestostudents,
dependingonthecognitiveanddevelopmentallevelsofstudents,

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HistoricalEmpathyandItsImplications 335

* encouragestudentstoaskcriticalquestionsofsourcestohelpavoid
theriskoftakinganysourcesatfacevalue,
* scaffoldandbuildupstudents'learningtohelpthemdevelopdispo-
sitionstoaskmorecomplexandthought-provokingquestions,
* urgestudentstoaskquestionsofthemselveswhenexamininghis-
toricaldocuments,
* encouragestudentstoidentifysourcesandgivereasonswhythe
sourcestheyselectedaremostusefulinsheddinglightonpast
events,
* helpstudentsbewaryofthetentativenessoftheirfinalconclusions
andinterpretationswithwhichothersmightdisagree,
* recognizethatengagingstudentsinmeaningfulempathyinquiry
takessubstantialclassroomtime,energy,effort,andresources,
* andunderstandthattheselectionofpropermaterials,askingprob-
ingquestions,stimulatingthoughtfulinvestigation,leadingtheclass
discussion,andmaintainingthemomentumofinquiryarecentral
tothesuccessfulimplementationofhistoricalempathyexercisesin
classrooms.24
Likewise,historyteachersaresuggestedto evaluatestudents'engage-
mentwithhistoricalempathythroughthefollowingfourcriteriaStudents.
must:1) indicatethatthepastis differentfromthepresentanda historical
to the
outcomeis specific timeand place, 2) explain perspectivesthey
takeand their
consequencesforthehistoricalparticipantsinvolved,3)
developfactuallyaccurateperspectivesonthebasisofhistoricalevidence,
and whetherthestudentis the to
finally,4) judge demonstrating ability
distinguishbetweenpastperspectivesand shiftskillfullyfromone per-
spectiveto another.25

Conclusion
By discussingthedivergentandconvergentperspectivesontheterm
empathy,Ihavetriedto documentthescholarlyeffortstodefine,con-
ceptualize,andclarifythemeaning,nature,andcharacteristicfeaturesof
thenotionofhistoricalempathyAreview.ofliteratureclearlyshowsthat
scholarshavenotyetcometotermswitheachotheraboutthedefinition
ofthetermEmpathy.stillstandsas a problematicandambiguousterm,so
anygivendefinitionofempathyissubjecttodisputeAs.26Davisconfessed,
eventhoseresearcherswho,likehim,haveattemptedtoconsiderempathy
inhistoryeducationdo notknowenoughaboutitandaredoingfurther
research.These27effortsshouldbe appreciatedbecausetheyhavebeen
contributingtotheliteratureinhistoryteachingandlearningbyexpand-
ingourunderstandingofhowandtowhatextentstudentscanengagein

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336 KayaYilmaz

historicalthinkingandreasoningIn. lightofthisreviewofliterature, is
safetosaythatthefirstandmostimportanttaskbeforesocialstudies
educatorsisnotjusttokeeprefiningtheprecisedefinitionofthetermbut
alsotryingtocometotermswiththeconceptualimplicationsoftheterm.
ClearerdelineationofthecomponentsofhistoricalempathyisneededIf. a
cumulativeknowledgebaseabouthistoricalempathyistobe built,an agreed-
upondefinitionofthetermmustemergefromdiversestudiesTo.
facilitatethatprocess,educationalresearcherscanexaminehistoriography
inordertoseehowdifferentschoolsofhistoricalthoughtdefineandexplain
thetermSince.educationalresearchers'neglectofhistoriographyone
ofthereasonsfortheshortcomingsoftheresearchonhistoryeducation,I
wouldsuggestthatnewstudiesbeconductednotonlyonhistoricalempathy
on
butalsoontheteachingandlearningofhistorybydrawingsufficiently
ofschool
theimplicationsofhistoriographyforthestudy history.

Notes
1. O. L. Davis, Jr."In, PursuitofHistoricalEmpathy,"inHistoricalEm-
pathyandPerspectiveTakingintheSocial Studies,ed. O. L. Davis,ElizabethA.
Yeager,and StuartJ.Foster(Lanham,MD: RowmanandLittlefield,2001), 3.
2. StuartJ.Foster,"HistoricalEmpathyinTheoryandPractice:SomeFinal
Thoughts,"inHistoricalEmpathyand PerspectiveTakingin theSocial Studies,
ed. O. L. Davis,ElizabethA. Yeager,andStuartJ.Foster(Lanham,MD: Rowman
and 167.
Littlefield,2001),
3. Foster,"HistoricalEmpathy;"Denis Shelmit,"AdolescentIdeasAbout
EvidenceandMethodologyinHistory,"in TheHistoryofCurriculumforTeach-
ers, ed. ChristopherPortal(London:PalmerPress,1987)," and PeterKnight,
"Empathy:Concept,Confusion,andConsequencesina NationalCurriculum,"
OxfordReviewofEducation15 (1989): 44.
4. Foster,"HistoricalEmpathy;"and RosalynAshby and Peter Lee,
"Children'sConceptsofEmpathyandUnderstandingHistory,"in TheHistory
Curriculumfor Teachers,ed.
ChristopherPortal(London:PalmerPress,1987), 62-88.
5. KeithC. Barton,"Did theEvil JustRunOutof Justice?Historical
at theannual
PerspectiveTakingAmongElementaryStudents,"paperpresented
meetingoftheAmericanEducationalResearchAssociation,New York,1996.
Lee and and
6. PeterJ. RosalynAshby,"Empathy,PerspectiveTaking,
in the
RationalUnderstanding,"HistoricalEmpathyand PerspectiveTaking Social
Studies,ed. O. L. Davis,ElizabethA. Yeager,andStuartJ.Foster(Lanham, MD:
RowmanandLittlefield,2001), 25.
7. Barton,4.
andHistorical Do-
8. MatthewT. Downey,"PerspectiveTaking Thinking:
ingHistoryina Fifth-GradeClassroom,"paperpresentedattheannualmeeting

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
HistoricalEmpathyandItsImplications 337

oftheAmericanEducationalResearchAssociation,SanFrancisco,1995.
9. PeterLee,"'WalkingBackwardsintoTomorrow:'HistoricalConscious-
ofAmerican
nessandUnderstandingHistory,"paperpresentedatannualmeeting
EducationalResearchAssociation,NewOrleans,2002.
"From toSelf
10. BruceA. VanSledright, EmphaticRegard Understanding:
Impositionality,Empathy,andHistoricalContextualization,"inHistoricalEm-
pathyandPerspectiveTakingintheSocialStudies,ed.O. L. Davis,ElizabethA.
Yeager,andStuartJ.Foster(Lanham,MD: RowmanandLittlefield,2001),55.
11. NationalCenterforHistoryintheSchools,TheNationalStandardsfor
10
History,<http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards>(accessed April2004).
12. Foster,175.
13. Davis,3.
14. ElizabethA. Yeager,andStuartJ.Foster,"TheRolesofEmpathyin
theDevelopmentofHistoricalUnderstanding,"InternationalJournalofSocial
Education13(1998):1-7.
15. Foster,169-175.
16. Davis,6.
17. K. L. Riley,"HistoricalEmpathyandtheHolocaust:TheoryintoPrac-
tice,"InternationalJournalofSocialEducation13(1998):32-42.
18. ChristopherPortal,"EmpathyasanObjectiveforHistoryTeaching,"
TheHistoryofCurriculumforTeachers,ed.ChristopherPortal(London:Palmer
Press,1987),83-133.
19. MimiH. Lee,"PromotingHistoricalInquiryUsingSecondarySources:
ExploringthePromiseandPossibilitiesinNewGenresofHistoricalWriting,"
paperpresentedattheannualmeetingofAmericanEducationalResearchAs-
sociation,SanDiego,2004.
20. Foster,175.
21. AshbyandLee,63.
22. Lee andAshby,21-50;Yeager,andFoster,1-7.
23. Portal,83-133.
24.
25.
Foster,175-178.
Downey.
26. Foster,169.
27. Davis,10.

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