History Teaching

Beyond the textbook - Principles and values


For some years now we have been talking about the profound changes which “globalisation” is bringing into people’s lives. [… W]e can see trends towards globalisation in communications, finance, technology, the ownership of the means of production and distribution and even some of the regulations that now govern our lives. I would expect to see more historical research in the next few years on the various manifestations of globalisation with a strong emphasis on tracing the roots of particular changes.

However, at this point I am more interested in how history educators at all levels will approach this theme. If students are going to be helped to understand globalisation in its historical context it will clearly be necessary to introduce a global dimension into their history education. [..T]hey will need opportunities to set national and local history into a regional and global context […] to understand how what happened (and is still happening) locally and nationally has been influenced by and has had an effect upon what is happening regionally and globally. And that brings me to another concept that is often linked with globalisation, “interdependence”: the inter-connections and shifting spheres of power and influence within international relations, world trade and commerce.

If students are going to be able to effectively explore and understand processes such as globalisation and interdependence within their contemporary and historical contexts then this will have implications for the structure of history courses and the ways in which contemporary history is taught […]

However, whilst globalisation and, to a lesser degree interdependence, have brought increasing uniformity and integration in some aspects of our lives we have also seen in recent years a growth of political diversity, pluralism, even political fragmentation – and these processes will pose another challenge for historians and history teachers in the 21st century.

These recent political tendencies and trends are not just the result of the fall-out from the break-up of a super power and the consequent re-establishment of national sovereignty in many nation states. It has also arisen from growing demands by national, cultural and linguistic minorities for a greater degree of political autonomy even self-determination.[…]

Now that the idea of a Europe of the regions has emerged it will not easily go away again. It will certainly have implications for the ways in which the political and cultural history of Europe is taught, researched and written about. The period of political and economic transition which took place in central and eastern Europe in the 1990s initially meant that there was a resurgence of interest in such questions as “Who are we?” “Where do we come from?” and “What is our history?” It would not be surprising to find that in trying to answer such questions we saw a renewed interest in history as grand narrative […]

At the same time we can also see that many of the traditional bonds that formed a person’s identity: the family, community, neighbourhood, religion and other social institutions have been weakened by many developments in the late 20th century. As a result it will not just be the sociologists and social anthropologists who will be interested in the history of everyday life. We may well see it becoming one of the faster growing areas of historical research and this in turn will filter down into all levels of history education. We are already beginning to see signs of this.

(Extract from "The 20th century – an interplay of views", publication in the framework of project "Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century")