Narrative in history

History teachers, academics and policy makers have often expressed concerns about the value accorded to narrative in school history, suggesting that an over-emphasis on certain concepts and processes – most obviously, causation and the critical evaluation of sources – has tended to obscure the importance of being able to put together a clear story. Constructing an effective narrative account, it has been argued, is not only an essential and demanding task in its own right and one that is fundamental to historians’ work; it is also the foundation on which other kinds of historical knowledge are built, and should therefore be more highly prized by teachers and within public examinations. Read more

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  • Curating the imagined past: world building in the history curriculum

    Article

    Mike Hill was concerned that his students were unable to genuinely inhabit the historical places they encountered in his lessons. Drawing on fields as varied as history-teacher research, philosophy, and literary and media theory, Hill identified ways to curate his students’ constructions of ‘secondary worlds’ in the historical past, including...

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  • Transatlantic slavery – shaping the question, lengthening the narrative, broadening the meaning

    Article

    Nathanael Davies explains his radical rethink of how to teach transatlantic slavery. He explains how he came to question his earlier approach of focusing on the causation of ‘abolition’ and ‘emancipation’ and, instead, allowed scholarship, sources and his own students’ meaning-making to guide him to a different, and much more...

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  • Film: What's the wisdom on...Enquiry questions (Part 2)

    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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  • Film: What's the wisdom on...Enquiry questions (Part 1)

    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...

    Click to view
  • Unravelling the complexity of the causes of British abolition with Year 8

    Article

    Elizabeth Marsay wanted to ensure that her students were not hindered in their causal explanations of the abolition of slavery by being exposed to overly categorical, simplistic, and monocausal narratives in the classroom. By drawing on both English and Canadian theorisation about causation, Marsay outlines how her introduction of competing...

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  • What’s in a narrative? Unpicking Year 9 narratives of change in Stalin’s Russia

    Article

    Is it structure or the selection of knowledge that makes writing historical narrative so difficult? Where does a conceptual focus on change, or causation, come in? James Ellis set out to explore the challenges his Year 9 pupils faced in writing historical narratives about change. Inspired by the work of...

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  • Changing thinking about cause

    Article

    Aware both that causation is the bread and butter of the historian’s craft, and that trainee teachers find it far harder to teach well than they anticipate, Alex Ford sought to get to the heart of the problem with causation, especially at GCSE. When teaching to a specification and mark...

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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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  • Harnessing the power of community to expand students’ historical horizons

    Article

    Many history teachers will already be familiar with ‘meanwhile, elsewhere...’, a website offering freely downloadable homework resources on individuals, events and developments in world history. In this article the website’s creators, Richard Kennett and Will Bailey-Watson, set out a curricular rationale for the project. They argue that using homework tasks...

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  • Using narratives and big pictures to address the challenges of a 2-year KS3 curriculum

    Article

    Faced with cutting her Key Stage 3 curriculum to two years, Natalie Kesterton and her department were determined to do more with less. Not only did they want to ensure that their pupils developed a secure, wide-ranging knowledge of British and world history, they also wanted to address deficits in pupils’...

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  • Using historical discourse to find narrative coherence in the GCSE period study

    Article

    When planning a GCSE period study on the American West, Alex Ford wrestled with reconciling the content demands of the examination specifications with the need to provide his students with a memorable narrative. In this article, Ford shows how he drew on the latest academic scholarship to construct a rigorous,...

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  • Teaching Year 9 to take on the challenge of structure in narrative

    Article

    Reflecting on challenges that had surfaced in their own and others’ efforts to get pupils to write historical narratives, Rachel Foster and Kath Goudie went back to the drawing board to consider the disciplinary purposes of narrative. They used both historical scholarship and theoretical works by historians on narrative construction....

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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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  • What kinds of feedback help students produce better historical narratives of the interwar years?

    Article

    Narrative has begun to take its place alongside the essay, for so long the stereotypical currency of the history teacher and student. In this work, based on his experiences as a PGCE student, Alex Rodker argues powerfully that it is time now to consider how to help students to produce...

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  • Cunning Plan 174: creating a narrative of the interwar years

    Article

    The major aim of this sequence of lessons was to teach Year 8 how to create and refine a narrative. I chose a period I was substantively confident on, which lent itself well to the narrative form, had a number of prominent academic narratives published about it and followed neatly...

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  • The devil is the detail

    Article

    Like many history departments, Hugh Richards' department at Huntington School uses enquiry questions to structure their medium-term planning. Yet Richards noticed that his efforts to build knowledge across an enquiry by teaching macro-narratives as an unfolding story seemed to make it harder for some pupils to see and retain the...

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  • Conducting the orchestra to allow our students to hear the symphony

    Article

    Alex Ford and Richard Kennett both welcome the renewed emphasis on knowledge within recent curriculum reforms in England, but are concerned about some of the ways in which the principle of a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum has been interpreted and transformed into particular pedagogical prescriptions. In this article they explain their reasons...

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  • ‘Through the looking glass’

    Article

    Danielle Donaldson began to notice the verbs that her pupils used to express their ideas. She noticed that more successful pupils were using carefully chosen verbs to express their conceptual thinking about causation or change, and wondered how this might relate to, and reflect, the breadth and security of their...

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  • Anything but brief: Year 8 students encounter the longue durée

    Article

    Inspired by The History Manifesto, Suzanne Powell describes in this article her rationale for expanding her students’ horizons by asking them to think about change, similarity and difference on a grand scale. She sets ‘big history’ into its curricular context, and shows the way in which her students could, and...

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  • History Teaching in Belarus: Between Europe and Russia

    Article

    International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research [IJHLTR], Volume 15, Number 1 – Autumn/Winter 2017 ISSN: 14472-9474 Abstract This paper is devoted to social uses of history teaching and history textbooks. It analyses, first, how the history of the lands of Belarus, at the crossroads between Europe and Eurasia, was...

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