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Seixas, Peter. “Conceptualizing Growth in Historical Understanding.” In Handbook of Education and Human Development: New Models of Learning, Teaching, and Schooling, edited by David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance, 765-83. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1996.


The basis of this chapter is the dearth of investigations into historical thinking and learning. Thus, this chapter is an exploration of the issues faced in constructing a collective experience of the past that make up the structure of historical understanding. The chapter is divided into two sections: “Elements in the Structure of the Discipline of History” and “Toward a New Pedagogy of History.”

In the first section, Seixas begins by outlining different theoretical understandings of how it is that the past is and becomes significant in relation to the present. Second, Seixas maps the different factors that inform how historians, teachers, and students assign meaning to the past and differentiate between what is to be believed as truth and what is not. Third, he highlights the inherent relationship between continuity and change which structures both how the “naïve thinker” and the “expert thinker” will understand how concepts, ideas, and social relations change over time and how the movement of time is conceptualized. The fourth part of this section is a short discussion of how people organize the past in relation to present notions of progress and decline and how teachers can probe students’ understanding of these concepts as a starting point for historical inquiry in the classroom. In the fifth section, Seixas draws from various studies to explain how it is that students might understand the past and make sense of the people who lived through that past through empathy and moral judgments. Lastly, Seixas draws our attention to the need to teach about the relationship of the historian to relationships of power so that they can ask critical questions such as “who makes historical change and how?”

In his conclusion, Seixas notes that his aim was to highlight the issues that students face when studying history and maintains that it is the duty of researchers who study history teaching and learning to expose these issues for other researchers, for students, and for teachers.

Ana Laura Pauchulo