Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences

By Mario Carretero; James F. Voss | Go to book overview

and others more akin to the paradigmatic mode, and the extreme complexity of the causes and conditions of history, the relationship between inferences and "data," is frequently and typically quite indirect at the moment of the construction of historical objects. In their interesting article, Voss et al. present in a clear fashion some of the complex problems that affect historical causality: the possibility of establishing necessary and sufficient causal relations; the special role of conterfactuals; the distinction between causal fields, conditions, and causes; the types of causal structure; and so on. The question raised in this case is whether it is possible, in the strict sense, to make causal inferences in history. In recent years, the use of models that deal with complex systems has permitted the development of a version of interactive relations in these types of system that is moving further and further away from the classical and determinist models of causation. To what extent would these models be useful in the explanation of forms of influencing (rather than strict determination) that characteristically occur in history? We are still a long way from being able to respond to this important and open question.

Conterfactuals in history are as dangerous as they are inevitable (and although infrequent in Voss et al.'s research, they are, at times, more daring than is desirable among professional historians themselves). Let that serve as an excuse to use one myself: If psychologists had studied historical knowledge, our contribution to clearing up the epistemological crisis in history and improving its teaching would currently have been far more advanced. The first efforts are now producing important results for the field of education. The chapters discussed here give definition to some important aspects that should be taken into account in the teaching of history: (a) the narrative modality should probably be given most importance in the teaching of young children; (b) history should, from the first moment, pursue moral and socialization objectives and favor ethical perspectives and relativist and "historicist" epistemologies; (c) an essential objective of teaching should consist of the development of the capacity to recognize, respect, and evaluate alternative accounts of the same events and also to choose between them; (d) history is also invaluable as an instrument for helping to understand human actions, without divesting them of moral responsibility, but neither naively reducing them to their personal components and recognizing inevitable suprapersonal conditioning and influences; and (e) history may continue to be considered as human responsibility, despite any influence to which it is subject.


REFERENCES

Bruner J. ( 1986). Actual minds, possible words. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Bruner J. ( 1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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