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Boix-Mansilla, Veronica. “Between Reproducing and Organizing the Past: Students’ Beliefs about the Standards and Acceptability of Historical Knowledge.” In International Review of History Education, Vol.4: Understanding History: Recent Research in History Education, edited by R. Ashby, P. Gordon and P. Lee, 98-115. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2005.


This study seeks to examine students’ standards of acceptability when confronted with two conflicting accounts of the past. Specifically, the research question guiding the study is: “Given two competing accounts of the past, how do young people discern their relative acceptability?” The study draws from interviews conducted with sixteen American high school students who had been recipients of awards for their research in science and/or in history in Massachusetts statewide competitions. In the interview these students were presented with two conflicting narratives about the Holocaust and asked to respond to a set of predetermined questions.

The study resulted in two primary findings. First, the students’ foundational understanding of the job of the historian was analyzed into two main categories: students’ expected that historians will “reproduce the past as it was” and students believe that the historian’s work is to “organize the past for people today.”. Second, standards of acceptability are defined by disciplinary training. Thus, science students tended to “favour an objectivist stance” and history students favoured the view that historians “make the past intelligible” to those in the present. In conclusion, Boix Mansilla maintains that if learning history is to be more than merely memorization of facts both students and teachers must recognize historians’ work as attempts to make sense of the past.

Ana Laura Pauchulo