Historiography and the High School Teacher

By Day, Blake | Social Studies Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Historiography and the High School Teacher


Day, Blake, Social Studies Review


When the word historiography appears in conversation, in a college classroom, or in graduate courses, questions arise in many students. Historiography is not a word that many future high school teachers see as they begin their path toward a history/social science major. For many, this term is not truly noticed until a teacher begins the process of graduate studies when a course on historiography is introduced. However, historiography is very important not only for the future teacher working for their degree, but for high school students as well.

To begin understanding this word and its impact on social studies teachers and their students, a definition is necessary. A professor once stated, "historiography concentrates on how history has been interpreted, rather than the facts of history themself." In many high school history classrooms, it is only the content that is given and not the many different views that surround a particular event or era. As history educators, we are required to teach critical thinking skills. The California History-Social Science Framework states "the skills involved in critical thinking enable students to question the validity and meaning of what they read, hear, think, and believe." For a social studies teacher, classroom instruction should not be "insert subject here" and continue to teach. A teacher should provide insights on differing opinions and views that may evolve over time. Additionally, with the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, there is within the English-Language Arts a requirement to understand an author's point of view. In other words, assess the author's claims, reasoning and evidence presented.

Within the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs, historiography is a word more readily utilized given the rigors of these programs. However, critical thinking skills are for all students not just those in college prep courses. Many teachers no doubt provide some historiographical skills without realizing it in its simpler form via the use and study of primary and secondary sources. The teaching of historic perspective provides a diverse number of viewpoints on a topic, such as the bombing of Hiroshima as seen by the Japanese and the Americans in 1945.

Within the realm of history, various documents and evidence used in the writing of history can vary on what the historian may use within their books, essays, or monographs.

Many students see the reading of history textbooks as the truth or the facts of an event. Many do not perceive of any other interpretation. Students must not accept that the textbook is the know-it-all source, but be aware that it's just one interpretation. Most textbook readings at the high school level are written in a narrative form. Simply put, readings are presented in a short and concise format that provides the basic facts of an event or era to satisfy the requirements of the majority of state standards.

For history teachers to address the various issues surrounding an event or era, they need to understand the various interpretations of the past and in some instances, recent history. In accessing knowledge of differing opinions and interpretations to various events, the teacher can provide an enriching and interesting aspect about history to their students. They in turn will look more deeply into various events of history with a greater appreciation. Additionally, they will have an ability to see multiple sides of history that can then connect those skills to other aspects of their life and the areas that surround it. To paraphrase what Caroline Hoefferle of the Organization of American Historians wrote in the April 2007 edition of Magazine of History, historiography will not only enlighten students to what the historical profession is about, but that it will bring history alive, that students will become active pursuers of truth rather passive receivers of truth.

One example is the writing of history about the establishment of the U. …

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