In this collection of seven essays about the teaching and learning of history, editors Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel Beck, and Catherine Stainton present research in the form of case studies that blend a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods in a range of educational settings from elementary school through the university. The various authors examine history texts and textbooks, the development of historical understanding, and views on the nature of history from the perspectives of students, teachers, and historians.
In the first chapter, Margaret McKeown and Isabel Beck undertake an analysis of history textbooks to establish whether they promote understanding of ideas rather than the mere ingestion of facts. The authors question whether students are able to make connections between concepts in the text in order to build a representation of the topic. The authors contend that the history texts they examined did not develop students' understanding of the interrelationships among historical events. The texts also assumed far more background knowledge than the students actually possessed.
Their study provides food for thought for text writers and for teachers who might be textbook reliant. By creating more stimulating versions of the text, teachers can depose the authority of the textbook and make students and themselves legitimate sources of knowledge. The authors maintain that written language needs to be "energized" in order to engage learners, and they suggest alternative methods to help students build their own understandings of history.
In a study set in a Swedish classroom, discussed in chapter two, Ola Hallden focuses on one such method for getting students engaged in historical inquiry. In the instructional method Hallden reviews, known simply as "classroom conversation," the teacher and students try to achieve a "shared line of reasoning" that is directed by the teacher but engages the student in dialogue.
M. Anne Britt, Jean-Francois Rouet, Mara Georgi, and Charles Perfetti take the analysis of history texts further in their chapter "Learning from History Texts: From Causal Analysis to Argument Models." These authors, too, contend that most history texts provide simple narratives that do not acknowledge the controversies surrounding historical topics. For example, in a comparative study of fifth-grade history textbooks and texts from published history books, they found simplistic accounts that often failed to convey to students that the story could only be partly known from the indirect sources available to the writers, and that different, probably contradictory versions of the same story could exist. The authors hold that if students were able to work with many sources, they could learn to distinguish biases in the text by constructing argument models that look at conflicting claims and the evidence used to support them.
An important chapter in this volume is Samuel Wineburg's "Cognitive Representation of Historical Texts" (ch. 4), in which he comments on the nature of historical inquiry and what historians do. Wineburg argues that "the writing of history is itself an act that reflects human authorship and is fraught with human concern" (p. 89). He endorses the view that language imposes a point of view or a particular perspective, and therefore cannot be neutral. Past events are not available for inspection and must be imaginatively reconstructed. Historians have to draw inferences and conclusions that, although based on the evidence available to them, are inevitably colored by their personal knowledge, skills, beliefs, experiences, convictions, and assumptions. The language of the text must therefore be closely examined for words and phrases that reveal elements of this. Wineburg's research with a group of historians attempting to represent events from a body of documentary evidence provides insight into the way historians grapple with documents that invite a variety of responses and interpretations. By making students aware of these processes, students learn to challenge and critique history texts.
This is precisely the subject of chapter five, "Students as Authors," in which Stuart Greene investigates how college-level students construct meaning from sources and then compares their understanding of historical writing with that of historians confronted with the same tasks. Results from the study indicated that students were insecure about the use of their own ideas, and ambivalent about where to place them within the context of other authorities' work. This study emphasized the impact of teachers' conceptions of history on their classroom teaching and its influence on their students' ideas of history.
In chapter six, "Educational Ideologies and the Teaching of History," Ronald Evans sets up five broad typologies of history teachers on the basis of a dominant tendency in one or the other mode of instruction: storyteller, scientific historian, relativist/reformer, cosmic philosopher, or eclectic (p. 178). The categories are not meant to be mutually exclusive and the characterizations will probably be recognizable to many students of history.
In the final chapter, "History: A Time to Be Mindful," Leinhardt draws together the previous chapters' discussions. She echoes the view of history as multi-layered and complex, a story of change: "Students need to understand the nature of historical ambiguity, follow convergences and diversions, and understand the limitations on perspective that the present imposes on us. . . . Such understanding represents mindful engagement with the content" (p. 240). In a chapter rich with documented research, Leinhardt makes powerful statements about history teaching and calls on teachers to be both flexible and dynamic in their thinking and classroom practice.
In conclusion, Teaching and Learning in History represents an important resource that can help teachers to formulate and articulate more clearly their ideas about history and classroom practice.