Interpretations

The fact that both the National Curriculum in England and the national assessment objectives that frame public examinations at GCSE and A-level include a focus on ‘historical interpretations’ (plural) as well as referring separately to students’ own use of evidence – makes it very clear that there is an important distinction between the disciplinary concepts of ‘evidence’ and ‘interpretations’. While the former is concerned with students’ use of sources to develop their own interpretation of events; the latter is concerned with students’ exploration and explanation of how and why interpretations developed by historians differ from one another.  (Both have a critical role to plan in students’ historical learning – and both need to be carefully planned!) Giving students the confidence and the knowledge to handle competing interpretations is undoubtedly challenging, but the materials in this section show how careful planning within and across the key stages (including Key Stage 3) can help students of all ages to engage effectively with interpretations examining the relationship between historians’ accounts (in books and on television) and the particular questions that they have chosen to answer, as well as the sources on which they claim to have drawn.  Read more

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  • Building Key Stage 5 students’ analysis of interpretations

    Article

    Students of A-level history are required to analyse and evaluate historical interpretations. Samuel Head found limitations in his Year 13 students’ understanding of how and why historians arrive at differing interpretations, which impeded their ability to analyse them. He set about tackling this with carefully sequenced planning and a processual model...

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  • Teaching Year 9 to argue like cultural historians

    Article

    Alex Benger asks whether the mode of enquiry adopted by cultural historians, the construction of webs of past meaning from past perspectives, is underexplored in school history. Benger used a cultural history approach in his building of an enquiry for Year 9 around one man’s experience of the First World...

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  • Unpicking the threads of interpretations

    Article

    Determined to do justice to the complexity of the seventeenth century, as a messy but crucial period in British history, and to develop their pupils’ disciplinary understanding of how and why interpretations of the past are constructed, Dan Keates and his department set out to exploit the rich seam of...

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  • Using the Harkness method to help post-16 students make confident historical claims

    Article

    Struck by their sixth-form students’ self-doubt when asked to make an historical claim, teachers Carina Ancell and Alan Kunna went in search of ways to build their students’ confidence. A fruitful discussion with university lecturers Toby Green and Chris Dillon, about the challenges faced by first-year undergraduates in seminar discussion,...

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  • Film: What's the wisdom on...Historical Interpretations

    Article

    We’ve been talking to our secondary school members and we know how difficult life is for teachers in the current circumstances. We also understand your need to stay in touch as a history department and continue those developmental discussions you would normally be having, so we thought we’d lend a...

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  • Modelling the discipline

    Article

    David Hibbert and Zaiba Patel decided to work together after becoming concerned that school history curricula might not enable students to interrogate popular British mythologising about World War II. Building on these pre-existing concerns, their collaboration with the historian Yasmin Khan yielded an Interpretations enquiry which asked students to consider...

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  • What’s the wisdom on… Interpretations of the past

    Article

    What's the Wisdom On... is a short guide providing new history teachers with an overview of the ‘story so far’ of practice-based professional thinking about a particular aspect of history teaching. It draws on tried and tested approaches arising from teachers with years of experimenting, researching, practising, writing and debating their...

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  • The dialogic dimensions of knowing and understanding the Norman legacy in Chester

    Article

    Michael Bird and Thomas Wilson focus their attention directly on the voices of pupils, in dialogue with their teacher and with each other, as they draw inferences from differing sources about the Norman legacy in Chester. By carefully examining dialogue stimulated by these sources, Bird and Wilson demonstrate not only...

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  • Absence and myopia in A-level coursework

    Article

    It is a charge commonly laid at history teachers that we, myopically, teach only the same-old same-old. Steven Driver has taken extreme steps to avoid this by focusing on a particular neglected event – the American occupation of Nicaragua in the early twentieth century – as part of his preparation...

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  • From flight paths to spiders’ webs: developing a progression model for Key Stage 3

    Article

    The disapplication of level descriptions in the 2014 National Curriculum has spurred many history departments to rethink their approach not only to assessment but to their models of progression. In this article Rachael Cook builds on the recent work of history teachers such as Ford (TH157), Hawkey et al (TH161),...

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  • ‘This extract is no good, Miss!’

    Article

    Frustrated that her A-level students were being overly dismissive when asked to judge the convincingness of academic historians’ arguments, Paula Worth drew on previous history-teacher research and theories of history for inspiration. After noting that her students would unjustly reject esteemed historians’ accounts for lack of comprehensiveness, Worth explains here...

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  • Reading? What reading?

    Article

    Discussions with sixth-form students about reading led Carolyn Massey and Paul Wiggin to start a sixth-formreading group. They describe here the series of themed sessions that they planned, and the student discussion and reflections that resulted. Listening to their students discuss their reading led Massey and  Wiggin to reflect on what is meant by ‘reading around’ the subject, and its role in students’ intellectual...

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  • Polychronicon 170: The Becket Dispute

    Article

    ‘The Becket Dispute’ (or ‘Controversy’) refers to the quarrel between Henry II and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, which dominated English ecclesiastical politics in the 1160s. It was a conflict with multiple dimensions: a clash of Church and State; a prolonged struggle between two prominent individuals; a close friendship turned...

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  • Myths and Monty Python: using the witch-hunts to introduce students to significance

    Article

    In this article Kerry Apps introduces students to the significance of the witch-hunts in the modern era, at the time when they occurred, and in the middle of the eighteenth century. She presents her rationale for choosing the witch-hunts as a focus for the study of significance, and shows how her thinking about her teaching has evolved through her evaluation of her students’...

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  • Right up my street: the knowledge needed to plan a local history enquiry

    Article

    Inspired by the claim that local history can be taught effectively ‘Any time, any place, anywhere’, Katharine Burn and Jason Todd took up the challenge of planning Key Stage 3 enquiries related to an unusual and diverse, but frequently neglected and often despised, corner of Oxford. They sought not merely...

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  • Narrating “Histories of Spain”

    Article

    International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research [IJHLTR], Volume 15, Number 1 – Autumn/Winter 2017 ISSN: 14472-9474 Abstract This study analyses the role of Spanish teacher training students as narrators of what they consider to be the history of Spain. Results of this empirical study are based on a random...

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  • From ‘double vision’ to panorama: exploring interpretations of Nazi popularity

    Article

    Jim Carroll relished the opportunity, in the new A-level specification he was teaching, to find an effective way of teaching his students to analyse interpretations in their coursework essays. Reflecting on the difficulties he had faced as a trainee teacher teaching younger pupils about interpretations, and dissatisfied with examination board...

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  • Polychronicon 167: The strange career of Richard Nixon

    Article

    If you know just one thing about the career of the 37th President of the United States, it is likely to be this: Watergate. Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 was caused by his decision to cover up a burglary at the Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters for the 1972 election, which...

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  • Polychronicon 166: The ‘new’ historiography of the Cold War

    Article

    A great deal of new writing on the Cold War sits at the crossroads of national, transnational and global perspectives. Such studies can be so self-consciously multi-archival and multipolar, methodologically pluralist in approach and often ‘decentring’ in aim, that some scholars now worry that the Cold War risks losing its coherence as a distinct object of...

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  • ‘If you had told me before that these students were Russians, I would not have believed it’

    Article

    Bjorn Wansink and his co-authors have aligned their teaching of a recent and controversial historical issue – the Cold War – in the light of a contemporary incident. This article demonstrates a means of ensuring that students understand that different cultures’ views of their shared past are nuanced, rather than monolithic – a different concept in philosophy as well as in...

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