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Lessons to be learnt from school history

Author: K. G. Hammarlund

Type: Conference Presentation

History Passion Project

One of the challenges familiar to every History lecturer is the need for developing students’ historical literacy. Most often History students take an interest in their field of study, they are verbal and outspoken, they feel at home on the World Wide Web. At the same time they have difficulties grasping the difference between ’fact’ and ’evidence’, between 'event' and 'cause', or between ’opinion’ and ’argument’ - not to mention the difference between ’History’ and ’the Past’.

The challenge is made greater by the fact that very few of today’s lecturers ever encountered lectures or seminars devoted to such issues during our own History studies. Historical literacy was something you achieved from doing history, period. Building on our own experience is therefore of little use and help must be sought elsewhere.

In my own teaching I have sought inspiration from Jerome K. Bruner while at the same time turning him on his head. Bruner’s oft-quoted remark, that intellectual activity anywhere is the same, whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third grade classroom, has most often been used as an argument for a renewed third grade teaching, moving away from rote learning toward development on skills, understanding, and independent reasoning. His line of reasoning can, however, is equally meaningful when reversed. The tools that School History teaching uses to promote and facilitate these qualities - simple exercises, lesson plans, learning materials - can be equally efficient as part of undergraduate courses. The tools must be adapted to suit the users but, as Bruner points out, the difference is in degree, not in kind.

In my proposed paper I will give examples of successful (and less successful) implementation of School History teaching in academic coursework as well as providing arguments for their use, based on a definition of ’historical literacy’ built on the writings of (among others) Tony Taylor & Carmel Young, Stéphane Lévesque, Christine Counsell and Ludmilla Jordanova.

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