Public and Applied History in the Classroom

Monthly Editorial: January 2023

Abstract: Researching those pedagogies, practices, ideas, and theories that are effective in teaching history in public and applied contexts is the focus of this month’s issue. The definition of classrooms is taken to mean places where learning occurs: universities, schools and classrooms that exist outside of the formal or traditional ‘four walls’ of an educational institution, such as those in art galleries, museums, and public—including virtual—spaces.
Languages: English

The collection of articles presented in this month’s issue focus around the topic of public and applied history in the classroom. They are the result of a jointly-hosted symposium between the Centre for Applied History (Macquarie University) and the Tertiary History Educators Association (THEA; University of Newcastle) in June, 2022. 

Fruitful Dialogue

At the symposium (and for many participants for the first time since the fall out of the global pandemic that made face to face meetings impossible for a long time with travel restrictions imposed on local government, state, and national borders) we were able to engage in fruitful dialogue regarding how the teaching of public and applied history takes place in formal and informal learning contexts—in traditional spaces such as the classroom and those less traditional such as virtual spaces. Teachers, researchers, and historians from schools, universities, and museums attended the symposium, and in this Special Issue they share their collective knowledge and experience of how to teach public and applied history across this range of contexts.

Contributions to the January Issue

The first article written by Louise Zarmati and David Nally reports on an archaeology field school held in Tasmania. The field trip experience provided school teachers with a hands-on and active learning experience rather than the oft experienced ‘chalk-and-talk’ style of professional development offered teachers. Participants attended a 5-day in-service school that provided them with practical knowledge aligned to the Australian Curriculum that they could then implement aspects of into their classrooms. Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state which sits as an island off the mainland, provides a rich source of archaeological experiences including evidence of Australia’s first nations people and the British colonial period. Leading the experience, the authors link learning about archaeology to developing students’ literacy.


The second article contextualises multi-perspective and multi-dimensional histories to the school classroom. Using the concept of deep mapping, Samantha Owen and Jo Jones use the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) as a case site to teach primary school students (9 and 10 years old) about Whadjuk Noongar (First Nations) people, European contact, and exploration. Here they investigate deep mapping through history and geography.


Coincidently to this being the Australian editorial of Public History Weekly, the contested national public holiday of Australia Day (known by some since 1938 as The Day of Mourning) falls during this month. This day marks the anniversary of the arrival of The First Fleet comprising 11 ships made up of two Royal Navy, six transporting convicts, and three store ships. The fleet sailed from Portsmouth, England to Botany Bay, Australia eventually arriving in Port Jackson on 26 January, 1788. This date begins the history of colonisation in Australia and is regarded as a controversial date to ‘celebrate’ the nation given its role in displacing Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

For this week, two articles are presented. The first, by a cross-disciplinary team comprising , discusses using authentic assessment in a university undergraduate history degree by way of a virtual object-based learning assessment which is designed to reflect the real-life work of historians. Students select an artefact and produce an audio guide suited to members of the public. This kind of assessment reflects the increasing online work that historians carry out in communicating history to a broader audience and how academics might teach their students similar skills.


The second article for the week broaches another controversy in the annual Australian public commemoration calendar of events, that being Anzac Day which marks the anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) invasion of Turkey on 25 April, 1915—a military campaign as part of World War I that ultimately failed with troops withdrawn in December of the same year. In this article, also look at an undergraduate history unit, with the focus here on war memorials. Using an Anzac Learning Circuit students connect their classroom learning with various Anzac narrative discourses, and the ideas or theories of memorial history such as historical inquiry, public space, critical thinking, and memory studies to learn about and reflect on popular and cultural meanings of the First World War in Australia.


This month’s Speaker’s Corner provides a case study of a controversial assessment task that was set in an Australian high school history classroom. Through a misunderstanding of the notion of historical empathy, a teacher set a role-playing task for students to re-enact a scenario from the Atlantic Slave Trade. With principles of a culturally responsible curriculum and associated assessment being ignored by the teacher, a group of Sundanese students in the class took offense to the task. The article written by Melanie Innes, Daniella J. Forster, Sarah Gurr and Heather Sharp details theories and ethics of historical empathy that teachers could consider and maps it against the publicity that arose from the task.


We hope this Issue encourages public history scholars and educators worldwide to engage in a broader conversation about public history pedagogy.


Further Reading

  • Clark, Anna. Making Australian History. North Sydney: Vintage Australia, 2022.
  • Evans, Tanya, and  & Melanie Burkett. “The pedagogical and social value of public history and work integrated learning: a case study from Australia,” Cultural and Social History, vol. 19, no. 1 2022: 77-95.
  • Löfström, Jan, Niklas Ammer, Silvia Edling, and Heather Sharp. “Advances in ethics education in the history classroom: after intersections of moral and historical consciousness,” International Journal of Ethics Education, 6 2021: 239-252.

Web Resources


Image Credits

The site of the Christmas Truce of 1914 (Belgium) © Janet Butters.

Recommended Citation

Sharp, Heather, Tanya Evans: Public and Applied History in the Classroom. In: Public History Weekly 11 (2023) 1, DOI:

Editorial Responsibility

Arthur Chapman

Copyright © 2023 by De Gruyter Oldenbourg and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact the editor-in-chief (see here). All articles are reliably referenced via a DOI, which includes all comments that are considered an integral part of the publication.

The assessments in this article reflect only the perspective of the author. PHW considers itself as a pluralistic debate journal, contributions to discussions are very welcome. Please note our commentary guidelines (

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