What is History Teaching?


This article looks at the nature of history and how we can teach history as a discipline. It suggests several steps that teachers may want to use to teach history as an investigation as well as how to do history in the field.


What are your memories of how you were taught history? I was born in the era, when we had history as a subject at primary level. My experience of history at the primary level was that of a story told. Sometimes the stories were interesting, if I had a teacher who was a good storyteller, sometimes not. At the lower secondary level, we underlined ‘important’ points in our textbook and at the upper secondary level, we took notes, which the teacher dictated from her notebook. For the ‘A’ levels, we referred to our textbooks, as our teachers lectured. My experience as a student of history for the first 12 years of my education is that history is a story told, of some events in the past which had nothing to do with me as all I was required to do was memorise the information taught and regurgitate it during examinations. Up to this point, History to me equaled the past as that was what I was told and I could read about the past from the textbooks which we did not question. However, the past will remain in the past unless someone records it or someone attempts to recreate it by looking at the records left behind. It was only at the university level that my experience of history changed as we examined different perspectives through different readings or sources and wrote our own accounts based on these readings. So what is history and how do we teach history?

Many of us were taught history as a body of knowledge to be memorised and forgotten after our examinations. Did you have the same experience? Or were you a product of the syllabus change in 2000 whereby you were taught content followed by source-based questions but without seeing the relationship between the two? Many history teachers when interviewed could not tell me whether history was a discipline as they were never taught the processes of historical investigation. However, they were able to articulate that science is a discipline as they had to do laboratory work when they were in school. Thus, our belief or understanding about a subject is also formed by how we were taught it in school.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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