Changing Historical Conceptions of History

Authored by: Gaea Leinhardt , Anita Ravi

International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415898829
eBook ISBN: 9780203154472
Adobe ISBN: 9781136578212


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The issue of conceptual change is not normally the framing idea for discussions about historical knowledge, reasoning, learning, or disciplinary progress. The exception is the work of Torney-Purta (1994) in which she uses the ideas of ontological shift suggested by Chi (1992) to examine the reasoning of adolescents as they include a more varied array of political and historical causes in their reasoning tasks. Unfortunately, however, the careful psychological work that she conducted is somewhat sparse from the historical point of view. If we coordinate the idea of changing ideas about what history is; that is, engage in some historical analysis, with the examination of a simple case of historical reasoning we might make some progress in the direction of considering conceptual change in history more deeply. In this chapter we start by considering a range of differing definitions of the scope and purposes of history, drawing on authors from Herodotus to Schama. These definitions range from history as a singular heroic, accurate, causal account (of, say, the Persian Wars and their causes) to history as an interpretation of conditions and perspectives that surround a particular circumstance (of, say, the role of landscape in historical memory) and back to a characterization of national identity through historical accounts. Within any of these definitions, assumptions are made such as honesty, completeness, and accuracy of the account as well as public identification of the author. We use these alternative purposes and definitions of history as the bases for an exploration of one easily understood example of an historical event, the Boston Massacre, and consider what challenges these issues might pose for the learner.

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