Seixas, Peter. “Mapping the Terrain of Historical Significance.” Social Education 61.1 (1997): 22-27.
Mapping the Terrain of Historical Significance
Peter Seixas, a scholar of history teaching, provides a summary of a Canadian study that attempted to determine how students related their history classes to their own ideas of historical understanding, “…gleaned from family stories, historical films, television fiction, commemorations, and, last and probably not least, their earlier school history experiences…they (students) filter and sift and remember and forget, adding to, modifying, and reconstructing…”(22). The result of this multi-layered and ongoing process constitutes the students’ identification and understanding of events, ideas and people of historical significance. The purpose of this study was to broaden and deepen the discussion of such determination, examine the various approaches students employ in their rationales, and suggest to the educator how to ask discerning questions with greater insight.
This study attempted to answer the following: do the approaches taken by students to determine historical significance vary? If so, are some approaches more effective than others, and what are the implications of such differences for curriculum planning and teaching? Student responses ranged from generally objective and analytical to extremely subjective.
Seixas provides the educator with a two-part student questionnaire used in the study and recommends its use to elicit discussion on the very issue of historical significance in determining curriculum and text selection, and as a tool in establishing how students approach and define events of historical significance.