Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences

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

Discussion of Chapters 6-9: What Do People Consume History For? (If Thefy Do): Learning History as a Process of Knowledge Consumption and Construction of Meaning

Alberto Rosa Autónoma University of Madrid

This chapter is concerned with the use of history. Hahn's statement that the claim that instruction in history results in a more informed and active citizenry has not been demonstrated, and it seems to me that it is a core issue that needs to be explored. The aim in this chapter is to discuss some assumptions that underlie the teaching of history, also to offer some pragmatic suggestions concerning the way historical knowledge may be of use to the citizen (the holder of so-called "lay theories").

When listening to the voices that refer to the use of historical knowledge, the dissonance of opinions is striking. From the classic statement, "people who are not aware of their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes," to Skinner's view about the uselessness of history for future life, there is a whole range of contradictory views on this issue. The cover story of the April 19, 1993 issue of Newsweek magazine is a revealing example. The headlines to an article on Serbia were as follows: "Serbia's Ghosts. Why Serbs See Themselves as Victims, Not Aggressors." The story offers a Serbian view of the current war in the former Yugoslavia, framing it within a narrative that presents a history of grievances suffered by the Serbs from their Croat and Muslim neighbors.

After the caption entitled "Six Centuries of Tears", an article by Peter McGrath followed bearing the title "The Curse of the Past. An Indifference to History can be a Blessing." This latter article in particular struck me as being both a European and a teacher of history. McGrath showed approval for what he saw as the Americans' lack of concern for the past. In his view, collective memory is (using a quotation by D.H. Lawrence) "thinking with the blood" and "history, in this sense, is the enemy of civil politics" (p. 15),

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