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A Student's-Eye View of Historiography

Author: Marcus collins

Type: Conference Presentation

History Passion Project

This paper offers a student’s-eye view of historiography ‘from below’ to complement discussions of curricula and methodology by teachers, policy-makers and academics. It principal source are essays written by seventy first-year undergraduates studying history at Loughborough University who were tasked to ‘write a historiographical analysis of the history you studied at school’. The most striking themes to emerge in these essays were:

  • a frustration with the preponderance at school of ‘traditional’ history of an empirical and high-political bent
  • the most traditional of historical educations being received by overseas students
  • an awareness that ‘traditional’ methods could prevail even when studying topics that lent themselves to ‘new’ historical approaches
  • a perception that ‘new’ history and world history are more comprehensive, democratic and inclusive
  • a greater degree of ‘new’ history taught at later stages of schooling, taken by students to indicate that it is more challenging than its traditional counterpart
  • widespread concern over a Eurocentric curriculum, with what little extra-European history on offer concerning the impact of the West upon the non-West in slavery, imperialism and the United States
  • a tendency to view the concentration on British history as insular, biased, nationalistic and associated with a ‘traditional’ approach
  • concerns over the Hitlerisation of the curriculum somewhat offset by the subject being taught as ‘total history’ and with reference to historiographical debate
  • a general desire for the study of history to include a moral dimension
  • little exposure to pre-modern history, historiography or archival research prior to university
  • a perceived tension between intellectual inquiry and ‘teaching to the test’
  • dissatisfaction with the curriculum even among those who go on to study the subject at university

The question posed by one student – ‘Why do we study what we do? – is a pressing one given the current upheaval in secondary and tertiary education in general and history provision in particular. The answers given by these undergraduates question the wisdom of identifying the salvation of the discipline in narratives of nation.

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