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

Sort by: Date (Newest first) | Title A-Z
Show: All | Articles | Podcasts | Multipage Articles
  • What Have Historians Been Arguing About... Histories of education – and society?

    Article

    It is not emphasised enough that the progress of historiography often proceeds, not by historians arguing and then coming to some resolution, but simply by moving on. Historiography follows fashion, and subjects often exhaust themselves (for the time being)... A related issue is that of siloes. Historiography – academic writing generally...

    Click to view
  • Historical learning using concept cartoons

    Article

    Although perhaps unfamiliar to the majority of our readers, concept cartoons are not a new educational tool. Christoph Kühberger here lays out his rationale for using this technique, borrowed from science education, in history teaching. Concept cartoons provide a means for pupils to express such difficult historical concepts as the...

    Click to view
  • Year 7 use oral traditions to make claims about the rise and fall of the Inka empire

    Article

    As part of her department’s effort to diversify the history curriculum, Paula Worth began a quest to research and then shape a lesson sequence around the Inkas. Her article shows how she allowed the new topic and its historiography to challenge and extend her own use of sources, particularly oral tradition....

    Click to view
  • Triumphs Show 182: A public lecture series

    Article

    The history we present to students, however rigorous and challenging, and however full of integrity in eflecting history as a discipline, is a shiny show of our best resources. Peeling back this curtain and allowing students to see the real world of academic history was a major motivation in inviting some...

    Click to view
  • What Have Historians Been Arguing About... medieval science and medicine?

    Article

    The phrase ‘medieval science’ may seem nonsensical. ‘How can... a synonym for “backward”,’ the editors of The Cambridge History of Science Volume 2 ask rhetorically, ‘modify a noun that signifies the best available knowledge from the natural world?’ To answer their question, we must rethink our assumptions, both about the...

    Click to view
  • ‘One big cake’: substantive knowledge of the mid-Tudor crisis in Year 7 students’ writing

    Article

    While looking to revamp his department’s Year 7 enquiry on the Tudors, Jack Mills turned to historiographical debates regarding the ‘mid-Tudor crisis’ to inform his curricular decision making. In doing so, Mills noted that the debate hinged on interpretations of substantive concepts such as ‘crisis’. He therefore also drew on previous...

    Click to view
  • The mechanics of history: interpretations and claim construction processes

    Article

    Holly Hiscox was concerned that many of her A-level students – asked to evaluate three different historical interpretations for their non-examined assessment task – still tended to hold unhelpful misconceptions about the nature of interpretations. In this article she explains how she created an introductory scheme of work to help them understand...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • 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,...

    Click to view
  • 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, so we wanted to lend a helping hand. 'What’s the wisdom on…' is a new and already popular feature in our secondary journal Teaching History and provides the perfect stimulus for a...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • What’s the wisdom on… Interpretations of the past

    Article

    How often do your pupils actually look at the products of historians – their scholarly writing, their debates, their to-and-fro of argument? 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...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • 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),...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view
  • ‘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...

    Click to view
  • 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...

    Click to view