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History as Knowledge

Ethical Values and Meaning in Encounters with History

Niklas Ammert

What do you know when you know something about history? What is important to know and how do you learn? Adolescents encounter history everywhere: at school, in the family, in media and society. But how do adolescents perceive history and in what ways do aspects of meaning and ethical values affect the encounters with history? This study discusses how Swedish adolescents and teachers encounter, communicate and define knowledge about history, analysing the process from curricula and history textbooks to the world of the pupils.
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Chapter 1. Introduction


History is a natural dimension of human life. This historical dimension is wide; it ranges from the memories of what we did last week to the narratives of human life and societal change in another century. People share common memories – that is why we often discuss what happened in the past and what we have heard about. Memories from the past, and people’s relationship to time gone by, bind groups of people together. For an individual, the relationship between the past and the present is an integral part of one’s identity, providing some safety. It is this relationship between past and present that also makes us human and shapes our way of relating both to the world and to the future. On a societal level, memories may include the almost mythological stories about the successes of the local soccer team decades ago, or as the time when there was that big fire in the village, or when the Prime Minister was murdered. In many countries, living memories of wars and other traumas are present in the collective memory.

There are distinct uses of history in different contexts. In films and in literature, historical themes are ubiquitous, and historical references are often necessary in order to understand the plot. In sports, people often relate to previous results, particularly wins. Having a “long history” is a marker of quality for a university, a company or a military unit, as well as for exclusive merchandise, such as watches or...

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