Children and youngsters encounter accounts of the past frequently in everyday life—in popular culture, in public architecture, in the news media, in family stories, in community traditions and so on (Lowenthal, 2015). They also encounter them, of course, in their history education (in textbooks and in the narratives that the curriculum presents and also in storied rituals and practices that aim to situate the present and future in past ‘traditions’) and in their encounters with the products of academic history, in so far as they come across this genre of historical representation (Carretero, 2011; Foster & Crawford, 2006).
It is important, therefore, for history educators to understand how children make sense of the historical accounts that they meet for at least two reasons: first, because all history is communicated through accounts (they are, as it were, the medium of history and of history education) and, second, because the accounts that students encounter are frequently conflicting. This has been repeatedly shown, for example, by research highlighting contrasts between the ‘official’ narratives students meet in school and the community narratives (and counter-narratives) that they may encounter outside school (Barton & McCully, 2005; Epstein, 2008; Wertsch, 2002, 2004).
‘Accounts’, then, should form an important focus for historical teaching and learning and also for research. We talk of ‘accounts’ rather than ‘narratives’ or ‘stories’ here to allow for the wide range of historical organizations of the past currently produced by historians (synchronic as well as diachronic, big-pictures as well as depth studies, and causal-statistical as well as agent-intentional explanations). In doing this, we are not committing ourselves to specific limitations on the concept of narrative, but merely attempting to avoid pre-empting such issues.