Guidelines for Teaching to Understand Historical Significance

Based on existing research confirming hegemony of a Eurocentric and/or Western-centric view of history, we can expect that history students will tend to identify European and/or Western events and leaders as having historical significance. It is necessary to be aware that the “dominant ideology tends to be the ideology of ruling groups” and to correct the importance that we spontaneously attribute to “central cultural actors”. Wars and political and military leaders could also be conceived as particularly historically significant because vivid negative information is especially salient in perception and because mass media and to some extent history textbooks stress a narrative and individualized view of events. In addition, teachers may expect students to consider national-relevant historical events as more important than those events that did not refer to their country. Students probably tend to perceive “our” history as significant for world history, particularly through idolization of national historical characters. This phenomenon takes place because important for national groups, emotion-laden and associated with social change historical events and figures are overrepresented in history teaching.

Also, the events and leaders worshiped and idealized in official commemorations (e.g. Columbus and Discovery) and included in narratives related to the foundation of the current nation state are those considered as having historical significance. However, the importance of historical events and people who did not become national heroes and are not commemorated in official rituals should also be stressed. In a similar way, history education professionals should also be aware that the events experienced during adolescence or early adulthood as well as two-three generations old events have particular historical significance for students because of the importance of direct experience and oral communication for the maintenance of events vividly in memory. Finally, events that fit with general norms and meaning structures prevalent in the society and culture should be assigned higher historical significance than events shattering shared values. In sum, to be aware of sociocentrism and the need to reinforce a more “cosmopolitan” view of history should be cultivated in history education. There is a need to reinforce a more “structural and long-term” view of history is history education.

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