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History Education as Content, Methods or Orientation?

A Study of Curriculum Prescriptions, Teacher-made Tasks and Student Strategies

David Rosenlund

Historical content, historical methods and historical orientation are three aspects that may be taught in history education. This study examines the emphases which are included in formal curricula texts and those which are included in teacher-made tasks. The results show that the curricula of history education contains historical content, orientation and methods, yet history teachers focus almost exclusively on the historical content. In a second step, this study examines the strategies with which students may process and combine elements from the three emphases of content, orientation and methods. The results provide insight into what strategies the students use and how they process the relationship between historical knowledge, historical methods and historical orientation.

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1. Introduction


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1.  Introduction

The school subject of history can be composed in a variety of ways; each way can consist of a mixture of the aspects of historical content, historical methods and temporal orientation. Decisions on the degree to which these aspects are included in history education takes place on three different levels; first, in the designing of history curricula, second, in the actual teaching of the history subject, and third, when teachers assess their students’ historical knowledge and competencies. How the subject of history is composed is of interest, as the result of this composition presumably affects how students will be able to relate to history. When I apply a historical perspective to the issue of composition of history curricula, some similarities between countries are revealed, as well as some important differences.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, decisions on what to include in history curricula seem to have been made on similar grounds in many Western European countries. At the time, the overarching purpose of history education was to foster the younger generations in certain ways. These fostering missions were achieved by delivering a specific historical content to the students, with the type of content being dependent upon what the fostering was meant to achieve. The fostering of nationalistic feelings, which was common in many countries well into the twentieth century, meant the content would contain stories about the great deeds and adventures of characters who were perceived as the...

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