Approaches to the Humanities − History
The History domain has two interrelated dimensions:
Historical knowledge and understanding focuses on particular concepts and contexts of history. Concepts include time, chronology, past and present, cause and effect as well as concepts relevant to particular periods of history such as ancient, medieval and revolution.
Historical reasoning and interpretation focuses on the nature of historical thinking including the development of research and inquiry skills, the use and interpretation of a variety of sources, the use of historical language and the communication of understanding.
History as a discipline
A disciplinary based approach to history includes:
- representing history as a form of inquiry built around sources, evidence and multiple interpretations of the past by participants, contemporaries and historians
- introducing learners to historical methods and procedures, focusing on interpretation and narrative to construct accounts of the past
- assisting learners to develop historical knowledge by focusing on the central concepts and ideas underpinning the discipline and the historian’s work
- assisting learners to develop patterns of historical reasoning by asking questions, fostering debate, using evidence to support a position and communicating that position effectively
- assisting learners to form some understanding of the circumstances, thoughts, feelings and actions of people in the past, that is, a sense of historicity or ‘feel’ for the way people thought, felt and behaved in the past
- presenting historiography to the learner as an ongoing and frequently contentious debate about the past, rather than an agreed-upon product
- challenging learners to move beyond their own theories about the past, reconcile their own and others’ histories, and think critically about the world around them.
(Source: Making History: A Guide for the teaching and Learning of History in Australian Classrooms. Available at: www.hyperhistory.org)
Using historical sources
A primary source is one that is directly linked with an event or series of events in the past.
A secondary source is one that is created at a later date and provides further commentary on the event or person.
Historical sources can come in many forms and include artefacts, letters, artworks, films, photographs, extracts from speeches, newspaper articles, documentaries, official records, statistics, music, poetry, posters, advertising and stories as well as written textbooks.
At the primary level, teachers can begin to teach students about historical evidence through familiar contexts – home, schools and local area. For example use of evidence such as family photographs, drawings and artefacts can be used to develop students’ historical thinking by:
- creating a chronology (events in a personal or family timeline – continuity and change)
- explaining history through narrative (generational or family changes examined through, for example, photographs)
- using various forms of evidence (for example, a baby book and loss of first tooth as a major event – different forms of evidence)
- constructing stories from the past without having directly experienced them (for example, their parents’ wedding – the use and value of evidence)
- looking at how sources might disagree (for example, student or parental memory versus photograph – conflicting evidence)
- examining how sources can be reliable or unreliable (comparing family memories of events with the sources – trustworthiness of evidence).
Students should be encouraged to ask a range of questions about primary and secondary sources. Initial questioning of historical sources to establish identity and credentials might include the following:
- Is this a primary or secondary source?
- Who created the document?
- When was the document created?
- Where was the document originally created?
- Who was the original intended audience for the document?
- What was the original intended purpose of the document?
- What events at the time provide a background for this document?
- Whose point of view is represented?
- What other viewpoints might be needed?
Organised discussion, framed around a taxonomical structure such as Bloom’s, can be useful in the developing of concepts for younger students. Questions like these are useful in developing a student’s historical literacy:
- ‘Describe what happened after…’ (knowledge)
- ‘Can you explain…?’ ‘Can you give an example of…?’ (comprehension)
- ‘Do you know of another time when…?’ (application)
- ‘Can you explain why things changed / remained the same…?’ (analysis)
- ‘What would happen if…?’ (synthesis)
- ‘Do you believe…?’ (evaluation).
The research/ inquiry process.
Research and inquiry skills are essential skills for young historians. The inquiry process engages students in the issues of historical explanation. It also supports the development of higher order thinking skills, increases student involvement and ownership of learning and caters for mixed abilities and individual differences.
The inquiry process
The basic elements of the inquiry approach are:
- choosing the topic (and questions, issues or problems)
- gathering information
- analysing information
- presenting findings.
Involvement in the inquiry process may be through a classroom activity that takes place in one lesson or occurs over several lessons. The level of scaffolding and teacher direction will depend on the ability level of the students and the difficulty of the task but by Year 10 students should be increasingly independent researchers.
Choosing the topic
A context for inquiry can be created by providing students with stimulus which might be in the form of a story, photographs, a segment from a documentary or a current event such as a newspaper story about refugees or Anzac Day.
Research questions could be generated through brainstorming, ‘Think, pair, share’ strategies, class discussion, viewing a documentary or reading stories.
Good research questions should be researchable and allow for a range of views and perspectives of appropriate depth and challenge.
Teachers need to ensure that students are provided with enough information to provide a context for research and that they understand key terms and concepts they will encounter.
Research methods will be determined by the questions, the extent of the task, the availability of resources and time. In the primary years, teachers might select key resources for students to use and location of resources at both the primary and secondary years might be part of a cooperative exercise.
Research methods might include: Internet searches, excursions to museums, listening to guest speakers, conducting interviews, viewing film and reading literature and specialist texts.
Student research might be accompanied by scaffolding such as data sheets for recording information against key questions and proformas which encourage the collection of correct bibliographic information.
Student researchers should be progressively introduced to a range of resources and critically question key sources.
In the primary years, students should develop skills of understanding sources, asking key questions about them and making judgments about the evidence. Questions such as: Who wrote this? When? Who was the audience? Whose point of view is this? will guide students in this process.
At the secondary years, students will progressively encounter a greater range and sophistication of sources and make judgments about the strengths and limitations of evidence, and evaluate sources for context, information, reliability, completeness, objectivity and bias.
Presenting the findings requires a clear sense of who the audience is and the purpose of the research. Students will progressively learn the conventions associated with presentation including use of historical language and conventions covering bibliographies. The VELS history learning focus statements provide a range of examples of ways that students might present their understanding in history.
Resources for teaching history
A range of learning and teaching resources for teachers.