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How Eighth Graders in England and the United States View Historical Significance

By Stuart Foster, Elizabeth Yeager and J Greer


Research has suggested that one way students understand history is to assign significance to historical events. In this study, we identified and analyzed what events 44 adolescents judged to be historically significant. We also sought to determine what historical events the students considered important compared to one another. Finally, we examined the criteria and reasoning students used to construe an event to be historically significant. Because the sample included adolescents in 2 classes-1 in England and 1 in the United States-the study offers cross-national comparisons. Data consisted of student-generated lists, as well as students' choices from a list of 47 events given to them, of the 10 most historically significant events of the twentieth century. From their selfgenerated lists, students were asked to select the event they considered most important and to explain why. In addition, 7 students from each class participated in a group interview. We found that the students showed an inclination to understand and learn from history and to find ways to conceptualize historical significance. Many were able to assign significance to major events, even though they had not studied them in depth in school. The study also sheds light on issues of national/cultural bias, personal relevance, and lessons to be learned from history as lenses through which to view historical significance, and it offers insights into the relation among national culture, school curriculum, and the perceptions of young people

Year: 2002
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