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Shemilt, D. “Adolescent Ideas about Evidence and Methodology in History.” In The History Curriculum for Teachers , edited by C. Portal, 39-61. London: The Falmer Press, 1987.


This study used data from the “Schools Council Project History 13-16.” The author used a phenomenological methodology which allowed him to study how adolescents make sense of the historical material with which they are presented thus moving away from issues of how they acquire historical knowledge.

Shemilt analyzed the data into four stages. In the first stage students undoubtedly view the teacher as an expert on the past and the text book is understood to hold the truth about what happened in history. In stage two students begin to recognize truth as socially constructed and negotiable. Thus students accept that there exists more than one interpretation about history. In the third stage students begin to understand that different sources can serve as evidence to construct a particular narrative of the past. Students in this stage see historical knowledge as something that needs to be worked out by a rational process. Finally, in stage four history is understood as a reconstruction of past events.

To conclude Shemilt offers four points of suggestions for history teachers. First, background information should be presented as secondary rather than as additional evidence. Second, exercises using primary and secondary materials should only be presented to students in the first, second, or third stages. Third, exercises intended to teach students about background information can be integrated with exercises aimed at teaching students how to use primary and secondary sources. Fourth, background information should be selected carefully because irrelevant information is difficult for adolescents to wade through.

Ana Laura Pauchulo