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Wertsch, James V. “Struggling With the Past: Some Dynamics of Historical Representation.” In Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences, edited by James F. Voss and Mario Carretero, 323-38. Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1994.


In this chapter Wertsch examines the following question: “What cultural and psychological processes are involved in the production of historical representation, and how do these processes operate in various sociocultural settings?” Representation is understood as a process of employing cultural tools such as stories or narratives, strategies of argumentation, and mythic structures. Specifically, the study examined how twenty-four students from a small New England university represent “the origins” of the nation through writing.

Students mentioned five primary events as origins: Columbus’ arrival in America, the Pilgrims’ arrival in America, the Declaration of Independence, the signing of the US Constitution, and the Civil War. Generally, agency was given to European settlers. Nonetheless, students understand the past as the result of a variety of actors. To conclude, the author suggests that further research needs to be conducted to examine how it is that people use these master accounts of the past “for beneficial and detrimental purposes.”

Ana Laura Pauchulo