Skip to Content

Barton, Keith C. “‘Best Not to Forget Them’: Secondary Students' Judgments of Historical Significance in Northern Ireland” Theory and Research in Social Education 33 (2005): 9-44.


This study investigated Catholic and Protestant students' ideas about historical significance in Northern Ireland. The research was conducted in two secondary schools in a medium-sized rural town, and data were derived from a ranking task and semi-structured interview with 40 students, aged 12-17, equally divided between the two communities. Students of both backgrounds emphasized the importance of community conflict and remembrance; in addition, Catholics emphasized fairness and equal rights, while Protestants focused on the political origin and status of Northern Ireland. These findings differ substantially from previous research in the U.S., and students' responses point to the role that societal context plays in their developing frameworks of historical understanding. Northern Ireland students' perspectives, however, were not simple reflections of either Unionist or Nationalist viewpoints; instead, students often drew from vernacular traditions to construct criteria of significance that crossed community boundaries. The following are appended: (1) Interview Protocol; and (2) Students' Responses and Explanations.