The theoretical model we have presented is grounded in cultural psychology. It reflects a systemic picture of civic engagement that recognizes its dynamic and transactional nature which enables us to appreciate the synergy between New Civics and history education. New Civics focuses on preparing students for active civic engagement, which is conceptualized as the capacity to understand, feel and take responsibility for a public purpose with the goal of effecting positive change. Historical narratives provide accounts of how individual and collective actors engage in a variety of processes that generate more or less social transformation over time.

We consider that these intersections pose five sets of questions that may guide future research but also can be the foundations for critical civic and history education:

  • Historical narratives position some people as part of‘us’ and some people as part of‘them’. What do these boundaries (us/them, we/others) imply for the construction of the notion of ‘public’? Who is recognized as part of the ‘we’ and what is defined as ‘ours’, must inform the sense of who is entitled to and responsible for the ‘public’ goods?
  • Historical narratives describe and explain processes of transformation and continuity. So, how is ‘social change’ represented in them? Is it rare and marginal? Is it inevitable and unstoppable? Is it episodic, slowly incremental or revolutionary? Is it linear, multidirectional or cyclical? Is change always for the better (equivalent to progress)? Is it regressive?
  • Historical narratives tell stories about individual and collective agency. The representation of agents and agency in historical explanations informs students’ understanding and capacity for civic decision-making. How do historical narratives characterize the role of individual agency in social change? What capacity do individuals and groups have to generate change? How do personal motivation, choice, commitment and organized action fare in relation to structural forces?
  • Historical narratives characterize individuals and groups and attribute identities to them. What kind of people and what social groups are positioned as significant social actors of these change processes? Who is empowered, weak, dependent and leading? How homogeneous or diverse are the societies represented? How consensual or conflictive?
  • Historical narratives establish connections between past-present-future, as well as between individual-community. How do these connections inform a sense of transcendence, purpose and responsibility of individual action (impact to others, consequences for the future). How do they explain the historicity of current civic issues?

The theoretical model of both sociocultural processes and civic identity elements has educational implications. Designing civic education needs to include students’ access to the narratives and discourses around their own history and sociopolitical systems and how these compare with other nations (and periods). Most importantly, it should facilitate a critical perspective on all of these which enables them to recognize how and why narratives and discourses were constructed and the functions they serve in the present. Students need to understand how positioning can be the basis for inequality, both in interpersonal interaction and through justification by narratives, as well as be able to deliberatively alter their own and others’ positioning behavior. They need to be critically aware of how repositioning can empower (or disempower) and recognize how this has been done historically in times of sociopolitical change; they need to know how to do this in the context of their own experience. Through this process, they also need to become aware that there are numerous possible, open-ended outcomes, not only one solution. In other words, they need support to escape from linear ways of thinking.

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