Thursday, July 24, 2014

What is history? History is NOT the past.

*I am working on some summary statements that I can use for planning purposes. These statements will represent core understandings that will underpin the lessons in my class. Moving forward, using ideas of backward design, I will craft learning experiences that help students to explore these ideas.

What is history?

With confidence, many eager students will likely say “it’s the study of the past”, as if the past were out there, existing prepackaged and ready to be learned. Is that a satisfactory description of histroy? Make sure to emphasize that history is NOT the past. History is a discipline, a way of approaching the past, a way of thinking, of asking questions and constructing answers about the past.

History is NOT a single story.

Historians create accounts of past events. In fact, we all do. When we talk about history, we typically mean accounts of the past, assertions about what a certain aspect of the past was like and what it means.

Since accounts of the past are not identical, judgments have to be made about these accounts. As you will come to see, our judgments about accounts of the past will be more sophisticated than true vs. false. We are going to explore why accounts of the past differ and what that reveals about the historian and the sources under consideration.

When accounts of the past are juxtaposed, we see that they reveal the perspective of the historian. The past cannot be detached from the person making claims about it. The choices made by an historian shape the account of the past that is presented. Cumulatively, accounts of the past can be viewed as telling different stories about the past. To the extent that there is overlap among the stories told by historians that shows us that historians are frequently working with a large number of facts in common.

Students often incorrectly believe that accounts of the past differ because the historian is working with a different set of facts. With this view, the student may express the idea that there is one true account of the past that, once and for all, will make other accounts unnecessary or irrelevant.

Historians do not work in a vacuum and, depending on the event, many facts will not be disputed. Different accounts of the past reveal differences among historians and the questions they ask, as well as the weight or value they attach to different pieces of evidence.

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