Why Historical Narrative Matters?

Was macht historische Narrative bedeutsam? | Quelle est l’importance des récits historiques?

Imaginez que vous êtes de retour sur les bancs d’école et qu’on vous demande tout bonnement de raconter, en une page ou deux, l’histoire de votre pays, votre nation ou votre patrie comme vous la savez. Bien que cet exercice de mise en récit du passé peut vous sembler anodine, il n’en demeure pas moins révélateur de la capacité des gens à mobiliser certains savoirs historiques entassés dans la mémoire dans la construction de sens, d’une narration qui lien le passé au présent. [1]


Un “tas de choses” qu’on doit se rappeler

D’un point de vue pédagogique et pratique, on peut affirmer que les récits historiques revêtent une importance pour au moins trois raisons :

  1. Le récit historique permet d’établir l’identité de son auteur et de son auditoire. L’acte de raconter, qu’il procède de la famille, du milieu scolaire ou de la communauté d’appartenance, permet à l’individu de découvrir et d’étab…

    Categories: 3 (2015) 11
    DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2015-3819

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3 replies »

  1. Great post’s!

    I agree that prior knowledge and possible alternative narratives are exactly the sweet spots for enriched educational encounters.
    If readers are interested in a way that historical narratives have and can be pedagogically applicable across the grades (in this case with social studies pre service teachers) we have been doing this here at the University of Alberta for years. See both the method and research results at the literature cited.

    den Heyer, K., Abbott, L. (2011) Reverberating echoes: Challenging teacher candidates to tell and learn from entwined narrations of Canadian history Curriculum Inquiry, 41 (5), 610-635.

      1. Lucas Garske is Research Fellow at Georg-Eckert-Institut, Braunschweig (Germany).

      Stèphane, I´m following your research since you had a presentation at our institute and I love the rich research material that you are generating by giving students the appearently simple task to tell the story of their homeland. I also agree that history education can learn a lot from narrativist approaches and that it should challenge students “own” historical narratives.

      I have some considerations with regard to what you write about students typyically compressing the “collective past”: Should we really discuss this as a students issue? Can we claim it is typically compressed (which implicetly means that it can be – even if atypically – uncompressed)? I believe that whatever students do may differ quantitatively, but not qualitativey from what “professional historians” do: they select and exclude. To use Shemilts’ metaphor, students don´t act as if history was like a volcano – it is this volcano. No matter which historical narrative we look at, we will find a highly anachronical structure, full of analepses and prolepses. Of course, we can make students narratives more complex, but I believe that the only reason why we may believe that at some point we turned the volcano into coagulating lava is because it became so complex to us that we are not able to see the hollow spaces and lumps between the particles anymore. Should it be our goal to turn our students into painters of “big pictures”? Maybe. Nonetheless, not everyone’s an artist. At least some should become critics.

      • Replik

        Thank you Lucas for this very thoughtful review of my post and sorry for this long delay. To avoid any confusion here, I agree with you on both counts — that narrative form is imposed not rescued from the past and students’ ideas are no different from adults in many ways.

        What I should have said is that students tend to “oversimplify” the past in narrative. They interpret historical changes as though they involved only the actions and intentions of a few individuals rather than societal structures or collective action. Students also think of the past as taking the form of a relatively linear story (generally one of human progress), with a limited number of characters and a clear sequence of events.

        These depart significantly from what historians do and think about history in their narrative explanations. While both attempt to generate intelligible “big pictures” of the past, students’ ideas typically lack the sophistication needed to understand the complex, polythetical nature of history – and human experiences.

        This is, in my view, what history education should do …

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