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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  • 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....

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  • Planning a more diverse and coherent Year 7 curriculum

    Article

    In this article, Jacob Olivey describes his department’s efforts to both diversify their Key Stage 3 curriculum and secure greater curricular coherence. Building on a large body of research and practice, Olivey sought new forms of curricular coherence through the selection and sequencing of substantive content across the curriculum. He...

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  • Using the concept of place to help Year 9 students to visualise the complexities of the Holocaust

    Article

    Inspired by the work of the social and cultural historian Tim Cole, Stuart Farley decided to look again at the way he teaches the Holocaust. He wanted to focus on the geographical concept of place as a way of enabling his Year 9 students to build far more diverse narratives,...

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  • Cunning Plan 183: Teaching a broader Britain, 1625–1714

    Article

    ‘Gruesome!’ was how we decided to describe our teaching of seventeenth-century British history, although ‘inadequate’ was probably more accurate. Oh, how much was wrong!  We had… Incoherence. The Civil War and Protectorate years plonked in between the Elizabethan Age and the origins of the industrial revolution. We had lost years! A...

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  • Triumphs Show: Making their historical writing explode

    Article

    ‘Who hates PEE paragraphs?’ A collective groan resounds around my classroom. ‘Today, Year 10 we are going to master PEE  paragraphs, and make our written historical explanations explode.’ I always remember one deflated Year 10 student who said, ‘Miss, I just don’t get PEE paragraphs. I couldn’t do them in Year 7, and I still...

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  • Touching, feeling, smelling, and sensing history through objects

    Article

    Lots has been written in recent years about how history teachers can bring academic scholarship into the classroom. This article  takes this interest in academic practice a step further, examining how pupils can engage directly with the kinds of sources to which historians are increasingly turning their attention: the ‘everyday’ objects of ordinary life. Building on...

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  • Beyond slavery

    Article

    Influenced by her own experiences, preliminary research, and recent political events, Teni Oladehin sought to thoroughly review how Black history was introduced to her students at Key Stage 3. In particular, she aimed to introduce Black history with an ‘authentic’ narrative which brought Black agency into the foreground. In this article, Oladehin shows how an enquiry on the significance of Mansa Musa both...

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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, 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...

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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, 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...

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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