Saturday, June 14, 2008

Historiography in the High School Classroom

My historiography professor introduced me to a valuable source in teaching historiography to high school students that is worth sharing. Kyle Ward's History in the Making: An Absorbing Look at how American History has Changed in the Telling Over the Last 200 Years, (NY: New Press, 2006), illustrates the changes in history presented in textbooks over intervals of time. The topics are numerous and begin with Columbus, through Reconstruction, to the conflict in the Middle East. This source provided the opportunity for my classes to move beyond the importance of content and explore the importance of the historian and the impact of the political and social atmosphere in which the history was written. As one of the American Historical Association's historical thinking benchmarks utilized by Teaching American History, studying historiography with high school students takes their thinking one step further in acknowledging and analyzing the developing and differing interpretations in history.

I chose to utilize the chapter on Reconstruction in my US History I classroom. Before starting, I needed to introduce the concept of historiography. I told the students that they were going to read seven brief histories of reconstruction that were written between the years 1878 and 1995. Putting the onus on them, I asked them why they thought I would create such an assignment, given that they just read about reconstruction in their textbook that was published in 2007. What did they think that I expected them to learn? The common response of, "how history has changed over the years," set up a class discussion on how and why history changes, if history is based on facts and truth. Students were able to recognize the factors that influence history, specifically, the time period and background influences of the historian. The assignment, as it was probably their first introduction to historiography, was simple, I asked students to keep track of the content, what new information was added to the history of reconstruction throughout the different publications and to keep track of the historians' bias.

I was surprised by how involved and seriously students took this assignment. Not only did it reinforce the content, students generated questions about bias and perspective regarding the impact of race in this particular vein of history. The only improvement I would make would be to thoroughly address the concept of bias, how to identify it, and what could cause it.