Historical Theory and History Education


10:00AM – 3:00PM


The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events. It raises the possibility of “learning from history.” And it suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine history itself and the nature of historical knowledge. These reflections can be grouped together into a body of work called “philosophy of history.” This work is heterogeneous, comprising analyses and arguments of idealists, positivists, logicians, theologians, and others, and moving back and forth over the divides between European and Anglo-American philosophy, and between hermeneutics and positivism.

Available Online: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/history/

This symposium brings together scholars working with historical theory, philosophy of history, and history education. Anyone with an interest in historical theory, historical consciousness, or history education is welcome to attend.

Please RSVP by 5pm Tuesday 17 November so catering can be confirmed:

The Structure of Historical Inquiry

The University of Melbourne, Australia

History educators find themselves in the peculiar situation of wishing to introduce students to the history discipline while lacking a clear conception of the features intrinsic to historical inquiry across its various specialisations and subject matters. In affirming that no one methodological charter hangs in the corridors of academic history departments, we fail to provide an adequate justification for an education in history. The doctrine that history is an exercise in disciplined knowledge, a specific way of knowing, is weakened by disciplinary disquietude and dissimilitude. Three features impress themselves upon all who inquire into the past. In the learning and teaching of history, these three features assume a distinct structural shape. First, colligation consists in grouping the events and concepts to be studied according to their shared purposes. Second, historical distance, intimately tied up with tradition and collective memory, provides the means for identifying a past separate from the present to be studied in its own right. Third, reconstruction describes the process of supplying individual content to the general categories illuminated by the earlier stages. To work knowingly in this structure of historical inquiry offers no solutions to the problems of historical thinking, it is to work productively within these problems.

Experiencing, using, and teaching history: Aspects of two history teachers’ relations to and understanding of history

Umeå University and Dalarna University, Sweden
and the Georg Eckert Institute, Germany


This paper presents a study of how two active Swedish lower secondary school teachers relate to and make sense of history. Using a combination of autobiographical and semi-structured interviews, and classroom observations, the study seeks to gain knowledge about the teaching of history by analysing the teachers’ narratives of their personal experiences of the Cold War period 1945-1989, their interpretations of a textbook narrative relating the outbreak of the Cold War conflict, and classroom observations of the teachers in practice when teaching the Cold War. Applying a history didactical theoretical framework of uses of history, historical culture, and historical consciousness focusing on narratives, the study attempts to analyse both explicit and implicit aspects of how the teachers narrate their personal experiences and disseminate history to their pupils. The study finds that the studied teachers narrated personal experiences of the Cold War show great similarities to how it is narrated in textbook narratives and history curricula, i.e. what could be perceived to be the dominant historical culture in Swedish education on the Cold War. These results are then used to discuss the importance of historical consciousness as an awareness of contextual contingencies of historical representations and interpretations to develop and further critical competencies in history education, both among teachers and pupils.

Remembrance, Pedagogy, and the Literary Text: Towards an Ethics for History Education

La Trobe University, Australia

In recent years, two articles have been published in Philosophy of Education connecting ideas of ethical remembrance, pedagogy and historical consciousness with the novels of W.G. Sebald. Both articles explored the ethical challenges of responding to the traces of difficult and traumatic legacies in the classroom. In Sebald’s novels, they identify the educative and ethical potential of remembrance practices that disrupt the present, halt the flow of everyday time, and interrupt ‘the flow of history’. Both articles draw inspiration from educational philosopher Roger Simon’s pioneering scholarly oeuvre situated at the nexus of remembrance, pedagogy and ethics. This paper extends these ideas to the history-writings of Swedish author, Sven Lindqvist. Like Sebald, Lindqvist’s work eludes classification. It blends many styles including travelogue, autobiography, history and fiction. Also, like Sebald, Lindqvist meditates on the difficult legacies of European pasts, exploring the trajectory of racist and expansionist ideas in the nineteenth century, and the culminating destruction in the first half of the twentieth century. This paper argues that, through Simon and with Benjaminian flavour, Lindqvist’s writings might too be read as works of ethical remembrance that open up the potential for transformative learning in the classroom. I will focus on how Lindqvist’s fragmentary style of history-writing is akin to Simon’s theory of ‘pedagogy-by-juxtaposition’. Lindqvist’s history-writing is arranged as a testamentary collage, and so it interrupts processes of self-constitution, resists explanation, and arrests the reader’s certitudes. Finally, I will show how this de-centring of the self is crucial for an ethical history education.

Postmodernism, Narrative Theory, and History Education

The University of Newcastle, Australia

This paper explores the relationship between various postmodern theories of history and their implications for history education. History educators frequently ignore, or engage only reluctantly and cautiously with postmodernism. Scholarship that directly addresses postmodernism and its implications for history curriculum or didactics is limited in scope and volume (the book by Segall, Heilman, & Cherryholmes, 2006; and the paper by Seixas, 2000, being among the very few exceptions). This should not be surprising, given that postmodernism has been described as an attack on historical reason (Appleby, Hunt, & Jacob, 1994), an assault on the epistemological foundations of history as an academic discipline (MacRaild & Taylor, 2004), a wilfully obscurant force that is politically paralysing (Roth, 1995), that cultivates a climate of cultural relativism (Evans, 1997), encourages the proliferation of revisionist histories (Windschuttle, 1996), and provides fertile ground for historical denial (Lipstadt, 1994). Much of this criticism derives from concerns over the narrative impositionalist theory of history associated with the structuralist Hayden White, in which the text is understood divorced of its context. This paper presents an alternative way to understand the narrative theory of history, drawing on the work of Frank Ankersmit and Hans Georg Gadamer, in which method is understood as inextricably linked to truth. It concludes with the implications of this alternative theory of history for history education.