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Barton, Keith C. “Did the Devil Just Run Out of Juice? Historical Perspective-Taking among Elementary Students.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, NY, April 8-12, 1996).


This study examines the ability of students to develop empathy for peoples of the past and to avoid the belief that people in the past were no different than today. The paper reports the results of a year-long qualitative investigation of fourth and fifth graders' attempts to understand the values, attitudes, and beliefs of people in the past. The study was conducted in two classrooms in a suburban community near Cincinnati (Ohio). Although some students initially attributed past behavior to deficiencies of intelligence or education, most came to understand that people in the past had different outlooks than people of today. The paper concludes that the active attempts by students to make sense of the different behaviors and attitudes they encountered in history should suggest that meaningful historical perspective-taking is not beyond the ability of fourth- and fifth-graders, and that they benefit from sustained attention to the topic.