Skip to Content

Lowenthal, D. “Dilemmas and Delights of Learning History.” In Knowing, Teaching & Learning History: National and International Perspectives, edited by P. Stearns, P. Seixas & S. S. Wineburg, 63-82. New York: New York University Press, 2000.


This chapter is divided into three primary sections: 1) why history is difficult to learn; 2) why it is important to study history; and 3) and suggestions for effective history teaching.

According to Lowenthal there are four central reasons why students find history difficult to learn. First, because the discipline of history does not have jargon or prerequisites people assume they do not need to have any grounding in the study thus making it more difficult to learn. Second, the skills that learning history requires are very different from those necessary for other disciplines meaning that students do not have the required experience for learning history. Third, historical insight requires life experience over time as well as the ability to speak from the position of first-hand witness and the understanding of how events in certain time periods are privileged over others. Lastly, Lowenthal identifies three current impediments to history learning: 1) the erosion of canonical names, dates, and events that separates those in the present from the past; 2) claims of ownership by historically marginalized communities to certain objects and places that precludes their use in public education; and 3) postmodern relativism that denies all claims to truth.

Finally the author maintains that history learning is important because knowing the past can contribute to our understanding of the present, because history education can teach students about empathy, and because learning history offers us the benefit of hindsight. Lowenthal suggests that history teaching can be improved by focusing on the present nature of the past.

Ana Laura Pauchulo