Tag Archives: History Education

Interrupting History

Parkes, R. J. (2011). Interrupting history: Rethinking history curriculum after ‘the end of history’. New York: Peter Lang.

Interrupting History Book CoverSince the emergence of postmodern social theory, history has been haunted by predictions of its imminent end. Postmodernism has been accused of making historical research and writing untenable, encouraging the proliferation of revisionist histories, providing fertile ground for historical denial, and promoting the adoption of a mournful view of the past. This provocative book re-examines the nature of the alleged ‘threat’ to history posed by postmodernism, and explores the implications of postmodern social theory for history as curriculum. Interrupting History will be of interest to curricularists and critical pedagogues around the globe, and to history educators at all levels of education. Making an important contribution to the struggle for critical and effective histories, it is a must-read text for those studying or teaching history today.


Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education Series (No. 404)
General Editor: Shirley Steinberg

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History Curriculum as Postmodern, Postcolonial, and International Text

Since the emergence of postmodern social theory, history has been haunted by predictions of its imminent end. Announcing a crisis of representation, the postmodern condition has placed in doubt the historical narrative’s claims to truth (Jenkins, 1991). Postmodernism has been accused of making historical research and writing untenable, encouraging the proliferation of revisionist histories, fostering uncritical relativism, providing fertile ground for historical denial, and promoting the adoption of a mournful view of the past (Evans, 1997; Windshuttle, 1996) . Tethered to state political interests, historical narratives are frequently studied and taught in national categories (Curthoys, 2003); and history as a school subject is regularly an area of public debate, government disquiet, and a site of struggle over collective memory and cultural literacy (Macintyre, & Clark, 2003; Nash, Crabtree, & Dunn, 1998; Richardson, 2002; Taylor & Guyver, 2011). The emergence and recognition of counter-memories from Indigenous minorities, and the de-centering of the nation inside global histories, have interrupted the incontestability of the nation-building project. One area of my work in History curriculum sits at the intersection of these concerns. I am interested in the various ‘ends of History’ these concerns signal, and have worked to re-evaluate the apparent ‘threat’ to history posed by postmodernism, and the implications of postmodern and postcolonial theory for History education. I am increasingly interested in History education and the problem of the nation, and how this sits in tension with forces of internationalisation. Many of these themes are taken up in my recent book Interrupting History: Rethinking History Curriculum after ‘the End of History’; and I am currently co-guest editing with Professor Monika Vinterek (Darlana University, Sweden), History Curriculum, Geschichtsdidaktik, and the Problem of the Nation, a special issue of the journal ‘Education Sciences’ which will also attempt to explore how these issues are being addressed in various regional traditions of History education.


Curthoys, A. (2003). Cultural history and the nation. In H.-M. Tiq & R. White (Eds.), Cultural history in Australia (pp. 22-37). Sydney: UNSW Press.

Evans, R. J. (1997). In defence of history. London: Granta Books.

Jenkins, K. (1991). Re-thinking history. London: Routledge.

Macintyre, S., & Clark, A. (2003). The history wars. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Nash, G. B., Crabtree, C., & Dunn, R. E. (1998). History on trial: Culture wars and the teaching of the past. New York: Alfred A, Knopf.

Richardson, G. H. (2002). The death of the good Canadian: Teachers, national identities, and the social studies curriculum. New York: Peter Lang.

Taylor, T., & Guyver, R. (Eds.). (2011). History wars in the classroom: Global perspectives. London: Information Age Publishing.

Windschuttle, K. (1996). The killing of history: How literary critics and social theorists are murdering our past. New York: The Free Press.

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Teaching History and the Social Sciences in a Post-Literate Visual Media Age

For the student of today, school is only one of the places from which they will develop their understanding and relationship to the past. In our post-literate age, when most of us can read, but many of us don’t want to, we would prefer to watch a film or surf the net rather than read a book (Rosenstone, 2001). Through the medium of the nightly news; in the press; as television docudramas, Hollywood films, or cable TV documentaries; in novels; through museum exhibits; commemoration ceremonies; monuments to the fallen; and increasingly on the internet, through websites, vodcasts and podcasts, we cannot avoid the encounter with history as media text (Davies, 2006). of course, historical representations arising within and across various media have varying degrees of reliability as historical accounts, presenting complex “mixtures of fact, fiction, fabrication and faking” (Ellsworth, 1991); and may be the artefact of rigorous scholarship executed within recognisable traditions of historiography, but are just as likely to be the products of a commercial imagination with little respect for disciplinary rigor or forms. This problem is compounded in contemporary postmodern culture, where the line between fact and fiction in historical work has been questioned (Curthoys & Docker, 2006; Jenkins, 2003; White, 1999) and is often deliberately blurred in reality television, mocumentaries, historical novels, and other popular media forms; where, even in television news, as Jean Baudrillard (1995) has argued, reality and representation implode, leaving us with only an endless array of simulations which often supplant any reality they were once intended to depict. It is within this cultural context, that the positive public reception of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (2003), a fictional novel which claims to be drawing on a ‘hidden history’ of Christianity, but which clearly gets the history confused (Ehrman, 2004), comes to represent the very problem being articulated. These cultural developments present a challenge, not only to public understandings of history and its discipline, but also to History and Social Science education in our schools (Vinson, 2006). Working at the intersection of History Education and Media Studies, I am increasingly interested in how we teach History in this post-literate, new media age. I am currently writing up the results of a collaborative study, funded by the University of Newcastle, that explored the use of visual media across the teaching of the Humanities and Social Sciences.


Baudrillard, J. (1995). The gulf war did not take place (P. Patton, Trans.). Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Brown, D. (2003). The Da Vinci Code. Berkley: Doubleday.

Curthoys, A., & Docker, J. (2006). Is history fiction? Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Davies, M. L. (2006). Historics: Why history dominates contemporary society. Abingdon: Routledge.

Ehrman, B. D. (2004). Truth and fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A historian reveals what we really know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellsworth, E. (1991). I pledge allegiance: The politics of reading and using educational films. Curriculum Inquiry, 21(1), 41-64.

Jenkins, K. (2003). Refiguring history: New thoughts on an old discipline. London: Routledge.

Rosenstone, R. A. (2001). The historical film: Looking at the past in a postliterate age. In M. Landy (Ed.), The historical film: History and memory in media (pp. 50-64). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Vinson, K. D. (2006). Social studies in an age of image: Surveillance-spectacle and the imperatives of “seeing” citizenship education. In A. Segall, E. E. Heilman & C. H. Cherryholmes (Eds.), Social studies – the next generation: Re-searching in the postmodern (pp. 27-46). New York: Peter Lang.

White, H. (1999). Figural realism: Studies in the mimesis effect. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

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Conceptions of social science knowledge: Assessing the impact on pedagogical reform

Griffiths, T. G., Parkes, R. J., Downey, J., Gore, J. M., Ladwig, J. G., & Amosa, W. A. (2008). Conceptions of social science knowledge: Assessing the impact on pedagogical reform. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 30 November – 4 December.

This analysis is set in the context of Immanuel Wallerstein’s work on the structures of knowledge, in particular the place of the social sciences past and present, and the potential contribution of a more integrated approach (historical social science) to the broader political project of building a more democratic, equal and just world-system. Our analysis finds that knowledge in the social science subjects tended to be treated in only a mildly problematic way, with moderate outcomes in terms of its connection to students’ lives and cultural backgrounds, and its authentic application, despite substantial attention to such characteristics of curriculum content, evident in the evolution of the History curriculum. Further we find that outcomes on these measures are substantially stronger in primary rather than secondary classrooms. We conclude by arguing that social science teachers’ meaningful engagement with the Quality Teaching framework, as part of a significant, system-wide pedagogical reform initiative, is contingent on their re-thinking the nature of their subject knowledge and its treatment in their teaching. Further, we argue that seen through the lens of Wallerstein’s world-systems theorising, this strengthens the case for the type of pedagogical work reported here to support curricular reforms in the social sciences and contribute to students’ complex understandings of their world.

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