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Gago, M. “Children’s Understanding of Historical Narrative in Portugal.” In International Review of History Education, Vol.4: Understanding History: Recent Research in History Education, edited by  R. Ashby, P. Gordon and P. Lee, 83-97. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2005.


This study examined how students between the ages of ten and thirteen understand contrasting historical accounts and the patterns of progression that exist within this understanding. Fifty-two students from a public school in rural Portugal were asked to respond to a questionnaire aimed at evaluating their ideas of why two historical accounts about the same event differed. They then participated in follow-up interviews intended to clarify their answers. The data were analyzed using the grounded theory method developed in Lee’s (2000) “Children’s Ideas about the Nature and Status of Historical Accounts” study. The results of this study were compared with the results of Lee’s study.

Gago found that students’ understanding of different historical accounts progress through five stages: “tell,” “knowledge,” “difference,” “author,” and  “nature.” Students move from stage one to five as they get older. Those whose answers fit into the first stage thought that the only difference between accounts was the choice of language used to describe the event. In the “knowledge” stage students attributed the differences to historians’ inability to access all and/or the same evidence. Students slotted into the “difference” stage suggested that differences exist because each account is concerned with a different dimension of the past. Finally, in the “author” stage students explained differences between accounts as a consequence of differences between historians’ points of views while in the fifth stage students expressed this same understanding plus the fact that each account is written within a different framework and for different purposes. In conclusion, Gago encourages history teachers to include different narratives of the same event to foster discussions of different perspectives and new interpretations.

Ana Laura Pauchulo