Newsletter – September 2007

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CONTENTS

ARTICLES

“Historical Consciousness” and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning History
Peter Seixas

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning History in Cyprus
Emilios Solomou

Meeting Held in Sydney
Sean Brawley

SPOTLIGHT

Call for Contributions

ON SITE

New Syllabus Posted On the Site

Making News

This newsletter exists to promote scholarly approaches to the teaching and learning of history throughout the world. The editor welcomes contributions that report recent happenings, note current trends, and identify emerging issues. Direct inquiries to Keith A. Erekson, Managing Editor. The newsletter is sponsored by the History Department at Indiana University and is the official newsletter of History SoTL: An International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.

ARTICLES

“Historical Consciousness” and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning History
By Peter Seixas, The University of British Columbia

Two areas of scholarship have recently drawn new attention from historians: the study of collective memory and the study of history education. The former examines how people beyond the ranks of historians have understood and used the past; the latter how students learn about the past. At first glance there should be considerable overlap and interplay between the two. In fact, there has been relatively little. Because they have remained largely separate, a fundamental—but potentially generative—contradiction between approaches to the two areas has remained largely unarticulated.

The study of collective memory has seen explosive growth and considerable accomplishment in the past decade and a half. “Memory,” as Nancy Woods notes, “is decidedly in fashion.”1 With roots traced to French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, scholars have examined the structures that enable societies to hand down beliefs about the past from one generation to the next, the purposes for which those beliefs are mobilized, their nature and shape, and the ways that they change over time.2 Collective memory presents itself as an important object of study not only where dramatic regime changes demand the scrapping of old national narratives, but also in societies where configurations of identity and power shift sufficiently to demand revised stories to explain origins, define boundaries, and provide heroes and villains.

The study of collective memory per se emphasizes the cultural and historical specificity of forms and institutions of memory. While one may find an underlying nostalgia (as in Pierre Nora), or a critique of nostalgia (as in Kerwin Klein and Gabrielle Spiegel), one can study collective memory without an explicit normative stance. The goal is to understand how institutions of memory worked in the historical circumstances in which they were constructed and maintained.3

The study of history education is also very much concerned with the question of how people, in this case students and teachers, think about the past. Yet here one finds a fundamental difference in scholarly orientation: normative policy questions are always close to the surface. What should students know? How can we improve history education? What constitutes improvement? Answers to these value-laden questions form a considerable body of work in the literature on history education. The normative dimension is inescapable.

It seems limited—to put it politely—for scholars to pose answers to the normative questions of history education without considering the literature on collective memory. Similarly, it seems narrow for those who devote their scholarly lives to the study of collective memory not to care deeply about how the past is taught and transmitted to the next generation. The deepest answers to policy questions must take into account many types of understandings of the past, as well as the dynamics of inertia and change that collective memory studies have explored. Here lies the crux of the problem: can the varieties of collective memory be conceptualized into a typology or a hierarchy that could provide guidance for contemporary history education and its normative demands?

The term “historical consciousness” can serve as a conceptual link between these two fields of study. Indeed, ambiguities in its usage highlight the central conundrum. In some instances, historical consciousness appears to be virtually synonymous with collective memory. Thus, in Herbert Gutman’s influential essay, “Historical Consciousness in Contemporary America” (written prior to the recent outpouring of collective memory scholarship), the concept means simply how Americans think about the past.4

An important contrasting usage of “historical consciousness” comes from German literature. In “The Problem of Historical Consciousness,” Hans-Georg Gadamer calls the appearance of historical consciousness “likely the most important revolution among those we have undergone since the beginning of the modern epoch,” more significant, indeed, than the revolution in technological innovation.5 In this usage, historical consciousness is a specific cultural development located in the modern era. Its achievement is “the full awareness of the historicity of everything present and the relativity of all opinions” and thus the breaking of the hold of tradition.

Modern consciousness—precisely as historical consciousness—takes a reflexive position concerning all that is handed down by tradition. Historical consciousness no longer listens sanctimoniously to the voice that reaches out from the past but, in reflection on it, replaces it within the context where it took root in order to see the significance and relative value proper to it.6

Historical consciousness here becomes a specific form of memory characterized by modernity and informed by the cultural tools developed in professional history, such as, for example, a critical stance towards sources and an appreciation of the foreignness of the past. From the standpoint of history education, as a matter of individual students’ achievement, these tools stand as a legitimate and virtually uncontested goal. On the other hand, when it is used in order to frame intercultural comparison, this definition of historical consciousness would have only certain groups “achieving” it, as a result of development, intercultural contact, or educational uplift. Such a definition runs the danger of promoting a harmfully Eurocentric model of progress, wherein the modern West “has” historical consciousness, and the rest do without, until they “achieve” modern, Western modes of understanding.

The term “historical consciousness” itself thus highlights conundrums on the interface between history education and the study of collective memory across cultures and time. The valorizing of particular types of historical consciousness is both unavoidable—most pressingly so for those concerned with any form of history education—and fraught with difficulty.

By setting debates about history education in the broader context of collective memory practices, we can help to move the debates about teaching and learning history beyond the relatively narrow terms within which they have often been pursued to date. At the same time, the normative concerns and questions that have been at the forefront of history education scholarship can help to inform the scholarship on collective memory.

Notes
This article was adapted from the introduction to Peter Seixas, ed., Theorizing Historical Consciousness (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
1. Nancy Wood, Vectors of Memory: Legacies of Trauma in Postwar Europe (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 1.
2. Kerwin Klein has called the entire field “the new structural memory studies.” Kerwin Lee Klein, “On the Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse,” Representations 69 (2000): 127-150. See also Michael Kammen, “Review of Iwona Irwin-Zarecka, Frames of Remembrance: The Dynamics of Collective Memory,” History and Theory 34, no. 3 (1995): 245-261.
3. Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past. Tr. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “Memory and History: Liturgical Time and Historical Time,” History and Theory 41, no. 2 (2002): 149-162.
4. Herbert Gutman, “Historical Consciousness in Contemporary America,” in Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class, ed. Herbert Gutman (New York: Pantheon, 1987).
5. Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Problem of Historical Consciousness,” in Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, ed. Paul Rabinow and William M. Sullivan (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987), 89.
6. Gadamer, “The Problem of Historical Consciousness,” 90.

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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning History in Cyprus
By Emilios Solomou, Intercollege

Promotion of the teaching and learning of history should constitute an important part of any country’s academic and educational policy. The absence of a university in Cyprus delayed for a long time the creation of an academic community interested debating and producing work on the teaching of history. Those who decided to devote themselves to history teaching went to study history in Greece, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and they tended to stay abroad to pursue their careers. The initiative on the issues related to history didactics and the development of syllabi, textbooks, and teaching methodology fell to the Ministry of Education and Culture and some of the teachers’ associations (basically teacher trade unions).1

Questions about history teaching exist within the context of serious national problems. The Republic of Cyprus was invaded by Turkey in 1974 and because 37 percent of the country remains under occupation, the Ministry of Education and Culture promotes history as a means of strengthening and supporting the struggle for “national survival.” Teachers in both primary and secondary state schools are expected and encouraged to follow the directives of the Ministry of Education:

The general objective of the study of History is to help students to know and appreciate the history and cultural heritage of their country and to cultivate in their pupils a national consciousness as members of the Greek nation and citizens of a semi-occupied country.

With the support of the autonomous and highly influential Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, national discussions on history teaching focus primarily on the issues of “nationalism,” “ethnic identity,” and “continuity of the traditions and values of the nation.”

The tenuous political context manifests itself in the history textbooks used in the state schools, which are imported mainly from Greece for the Greek-Cypriots and from Turkey for the Turkish-Cypriots. Content and approach are determined in the nation of textbook production. A recent issue over a textbook for the sixth form of primary school (year 11) typifies the current state of affairs. In writing Modern and Contemporary Years, an editorial team led by Maria Rebousi attempted to remove nationalistic “biases” and to avoid analysis that can cultivate antipathy towards neighbouring people (e.g., Turkey).2 To achieve this, the editorial team left out some controversial issues and events and played down or neutralized others. Critics of the book contend that it makes hardly any reference to the “atrocities perpetrated by the Turks” during the Greek War of Independence and that key events during the struggle for independence have been left out. Additional criticism concerns the way events are described relating to the “Asia Minor massacres” and the genocide of the Greek and Armenian population in 1915 and 1922 respectively. The section on Cyprus also raised a furor on the island since a controversial map seems to indicate acceptance of the de facto partition of the island as a result of the Turkish invasion in 1974. Furthermore it has been considered inappropriate that the book devotes only three pages to the postwar history of Cyprus. Greek and Greek-Cypriot critics demanded withdrawal of the book and the debate is still going on as to what will happen in the next school year.

Despite the political climate, there are signs of improvement in the field of history teaching and learning. Since the establishment of the University of Cyprus in 1993 the field of “History Didactics” has begun to grow in the department of history and archaeology, where the first postgraduate students (M.A. and Ph.D.) have already completed their programs and are enriching the debate on history teaching and learning. A number of tertiary education colleges are also setting up programmes that include the teaching of history. Many associations have been created that organize meetings, debates and conferences, perhaps most notably the Council of Europe has been organizing workshops that bring together Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots in an effort to encourage new approaches to history teaching and to produce the appropriate material.3 An increasing variety of books address history teaching and learning as well as nationalism and national identity with multiculturalism and multiperspectivity.4 There has not as yet been much local research concerning the theoretical aspects of learning, but history writing and teaching will be changing by necessity in the years to come. Although we still have some way to go, the signs of progress in the right direction are evident and encouraging.

Notes
1. Such associations include the Secondary Teacher’s Association (OELMEK), the Primary School Teacher’s Association (POED), and the Technical School Teacher’s Association (OLTEK).
2. M. Rebusi, C. Andreadou, A. Poutahides, A. Tsibas, Modern and Contemporary Years (Athens, Greece: Organisation for the Publication of Textbooks, 2006). The editors followed an approach cultivated by a group of academics in the Balkans who formed the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe.
3. For example, the Council of Europe hosted a seminar/workshop on “Interactive Methods for Promoting Intercultural Dialogue in Teaching and Learning History,” December 1-2, 2006, and a conference on “The Use of Historical Sources in Teaching Cultural and Social History of Cyprus,” June 2006. The Association for Historical Dialogue and Research hosted a conference on “What Does it Mean to Think Historically? Approaches to Teaching and Learning History”, February 2004, Nicosia; the proceedings have been published.
4. Αντωνιάδης Λ (1995) Η Διδακτική της Ιστορίας. Αθήνα: Εκδόσεις Πατάκη [L. Antoniades, The Teaching of History (Patakis Publications, 1995)]; Κόκκινος Γ, Νάκου Ει (2006) Προσεγγίζοντας την Ιστορική Εκπαίδευση στις αρχές του 21ου αιώνα. Αθήνα, ΜΕΤΑΙΧΜΙΟ [G. Kokkinos G and I. Nakou, Approaching History Education in the 21st Century (1991)]; Σκούρου Τ (1991) Η Νέα Ιστορία: Σύγχρονη Αντίληψη για τη Διδασκαλία της Ιστορίας με τη Χρήση των Πηγών. Λεμεσός [T. Skourou, The New History: New Approaches to the Teaching of History through the Use of Sources (Limassol, 1991)]; Σκούρου Τ Α (1997) Η Ιστορία και η Διδακτική της. Λεμεσός [T. A. Skourou, History and History Teaching (Limassol, 1997)].

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Meeting Held in Sydney
Contributed by Sean Brawley, University of New South Wales

With South Australian wines and Victorian and Tasmanian cheeses provided by the School of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales a most pleasant afternoon unfolded. Eleven historians from Australia, UK, USA, and South Africa discussed the activities of History SoTL to date and pondered what steps forward the organization could take. Read more and comment.

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SPOTLIGHT

Call for Contributions

Are you conducting research into the scholarship of teaching and learning in history? Is your department involved an an analysis of student learning? Are you hosting a conference or workshop on history teaching? Please let us know. Submit a 100-200 word summary to the editor.

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ON SITE

New Syllabus Posted On the Site

Robert Johnston of the University of Illinois at Chicago has posted a syllabus for a colloquium course on the teaching of history. Discussion has already begun on this site’s blog.

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Making News

History SoTL: An International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History has been making news! Recent issues of History Australia, the American Historical Association’s Perspectives, and the ISSOTL’s International Commons have discussed the organization of our society and the development of scholarship on teaching and learning history. The In the News page of our site provides citations and links to these records of our collective work.

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