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HTAV Middle years conference 28 October 2011 Doing historical empathy tyson Retz, Our Lady of sion college.

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Presentation on theme: "HTAV Middle years conference 28 October 2011 Doing historical empathy tyson Retz, Our Lady of sion college."— Presentation transcript:

1 HTAV Middle years conference 28 October Doing historical empathy tyson Retz, Our Lady of sion college

2 What is Historical Empathy?
Definitions Historicism In class My argument “Empathy involves using the perspectives of people in the past to explain their actions” (Barton and Levstik, 2004 in Leckey, Seminar notes). “Empathy is entertaining the beliefs, goals, and values of other people… or other societies” (Ashby and Lee, 1987 in Leckey, Seminar notes). “Empathy means… to glide with one’s own feeling into the dynamic structure of an object… and as it were trace it from within…” (Buber, 1948 in Leckey, Seminar notes). Historical empathy situated within larger tradition of historicism: “A critical movement insisting on the prime importance of historical context to the interpretation of texts of all kinds” (Hamilton, 2007) Perspective taking activities too often overestimate the extent to which we can imagine ourselves as past actors: “Imagine you are a slave,” “imagine you are an indigenous Australian witnessing the arrival of the First Fleet.” Leads to an irresponsible and erroneous understanding of the past. Doing historical empathy = doing the History discipline

3 Hence, historical empathy is at war with PRESENTISM
Why is it so hard? Implicit in historical empathy is the need to treat the past on its own terms, to “get behind the eyeballs of people in the past and identify with historical actors” (Gagnon, 1991) or to “stand in the shoes of those who came before us.” A noble objective, but: “[Historical empathy] is difficult because it means holding in mind whole structures of ideas that are not one’s own, and with which one may profoundly disagree. And not just holding them in mind as inert knowledge, but being able to work with them in order to explain and understand what people did in the past. All of this is hard because it requires a high level of thinking” (Ashby and Lee, 1987, emphasis added). “… this imaginative achievement in understanding how people in the past felt, thought, and acted differently from people today demands thoughtful effort… it necessitates the ability to view others from the past not as intellectually or morally inferior but as equal and different, with their own belief systems and forms of life” (Lévesque, 2008, emphasis added). Hence, historical empathy is at war with PRESENTISM Would like to point out that there is significant overlap in the stages. For example, I could not have diagnosed without evaluating

4 Presentism Many students begin their study of history assuming that the past is somehow given, perhaps by direct inspection of pictures, films or videos. Unable to consider their own positionalities, presentism: can manifest itself in class when students willingly write off historical agents as lacking any kind of rationality and treat past social practices as demonstrating that people in the past were seriously mentally defective (Lee, 1991). “Presentism is precisely the tendency of contemporary people not to differentiate the past from the present, to naively impose their present-day values and norms on predecessors, as if the two contexts could magically be merged into a single transhistorical entity” (Lévesque, 2008). Underlying students’ thinking in the secondary years is that the past happens in stories (unfolding of events). Evidence that does not concur with students’ received ideas is simply wrong or the result of the author’s bias or incompetence (Lee, 1991).

5 Building a sense of positionality
Presentism can be combated through a serious effort to identify historically situated assumptions. Useful questions when faced with a text include: What was the social, cultural and economic context of the time? What was the author’s role or participation in that context? What information do the sources reveal about the historical context? How is this context different from or similar to others and ours? Concept of “strategic competence” involves being mentally aware of personal assumptions. (Lévesque, 2008).

6 The danger of relativism
Tackling presentism can present another problem, that of relativism. Relativism in history occurs when any version of the past is considered as good as any other. It occurs when: Statements about the past are seen as authoritative to the extent that they were made in the past, i.e. inability to discern hierarchy of evidence Historians’ disagreements are not sufficiently compared and evaluated alongside key questions and problems Positionality leading to negation of student’s own ability to interpret, thereby knowing little and permitting everything (Lévesque, 2008).

7 Three levels of interpretation: hermeneutics
Hermeneutics loosely defined as the theory or philosophy of the interpretation of meaning. Reader defined by: historical epoch, society and culture, educational background, linguistic ability, familiarity with the subject matter, and purpose or practical interest. Text conditioned by: its age, the culture in which it was produced, the language and the talent of its author, and its author’s intent. The aim of interpretation is to reproduce the meaning of intention of the author made possible by 1) reader’s ability to break out of own historical epoch, and 2) ability to transcend historical limitations altogether to reach universal, or at least, objective truth. Key thinkers: Schleirmacher, Dilthey, Betti, Hirsch. Complete objective interpretation not possible because, as readers, we are conditioned by prejudices of our own historical existence. Prejudices embedded in language which affects access to meaning. Some access possible through “fusion of horizons”, dialogical conversation between text and reader. Key thinkers: Gadamer, Ricoeur. Original meaning unattainable. Reading is a more a case of playing and dancing than an application of method. Deconstructionist techniques play the text off against itself to show that it is contingent and relative. Key thinkers: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault. (Gallagher, 1992) Conservative Moderate Radical

8 Three components of Historical Empathy – Lévesque
Lévesque (2008) argues that historical empathy encompasses three interrelated concepts largely employed in the History discipline: Historical Imagination 2. Contextualisation 3. Judging the Past

9 Historical Imagination
What is it? In class We cannot avoid having to mentally recreate – to imagine – what it was like to be in past actors’ positions. R.G. Collingwood’s “ship analogy” If a ship docks at Port Melbourne, although we didn’t see the ship, we know it must have passed through The Rip and therefore can (accurately?) imagine its crossing of Port Phillip Bay. From historical evidence, students are able to recreate in their own minds the factors which guided past actors’ actions This is historical empathy. Offer a rich base of historical sources in multimodal formats to facilitate re-enactment. Use sources that allow students to “feel” some of the messages conveyed in the sources. While the historical imagination can be aroused by exposure to sources, it is through the analysis and evaluation of sources against each other that historical imagination is created.

10 Contextualisation What is it? In class
If empathy is an imaginative construction of the past based on evidence, then the thoughts of past actors must be placed in the specific social-spatial and temporal location from which they emerged. Contextualisation is an essential step in evaluating evidence. For instance, Caesar could not have had breakfast in Rome and dinner in Gaul. Three elements 1) the personal (of the author) 2) the socio-cultural (author’s outer context) 3) the contemporary (positionality) Must establish chronological and conceptual understanding at the outset. Primary sources must offer a variety of viewpoints. Critical evaluation of evidence to involve 1) identification; 2) attribution; 3) contextualisation; 4) corroboration. Pay attention to students’ positionality. Helps us appreciate the “pastness” of the past and avoid imposing our own frameworks on interpretations

11 Judging the Past What is it? In class
Most difficult and contentious aspect of history teaching. Confusion between sympathy and empathy generated by simplistic imaginative speculations in class, the typical “imagine you are” activity which makes no historical sense unless accompanied by extensive evidence on and from inner and outer sources. Undeniable moral dimension to historical empathy as we are required to assume some perspective on what ought to be valued in life. We must engage in a “contextualisation of the present,” to consider and examine our own belief systems, implicit/explicit assumptions about human life, technology, progress, i.e. what ought to be valued in life. Establish the contextualised morality of predecessors’ actions, not so much to accept or reject it, but to gain a sophisticated understanding of why people acted the way they did, e.g. On what grounds and from what re-enactable evidence is Hitler evil?

12 Historical Empathy= Doing the Discipline
According to this model, doing historical empathy is doing the History discipline. It involves: employing the procedural concepts of historical imagination, contextualisation and judging the past, all based on the analysis and evaluation of evidence. a cognitive approach over an affective approach. Empathy exercises emphasise historical dilemmas and contrasts between past and present. Sympathising with past actors is not a sought end, however may occur during and as a consequence of the process.

13 Six Essential Qualities of Historical Empathy – Foster
Stuart Foster (1999) believes that historical empathy incorporates six essential qualities: Understanding why people acted the way they did Appreciation of context & chronology Analysis & evaluation of historical evidence Appreciation for the consequences of actions Ability to differentiate past & present Respect for complexity of human action & achievement

14 Sample Unit The dilemma: Why Did British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Appease Hitler in 1938? Steps: 1. Context and Chronology a. Essential Background Knowledge Before students can address the central question, they must have contextual and chronological knowledge of the period. – Appendix 1: German foreign policy in the 1930s, key events b. Group Research of Historical Context To understand background to appeasement, students must research important contextual information. – Appendix 2: Working in teams of five, students find out about one of the topics listed. Present findings either as written report or presentation.

15 2. Introduce Historical Evidence
a. Student Investigation of Historical Sources Essential to historical empathy is that students actively analyse and evaluate historical evidence related to the dilemma. – Appendix 3: Divide class into groups, one member to record the group’s decisions. The group should discuss each source (1–21) and decide whether it supports Chamberlain’s decision to appease Hitler, opposes it, or is indifferent. Mark the group’s collective decision next to each source class discussion. Some teachers may want to extend this by requiring the class to go beyond the provided sources. b. Group Evaluation: Reasons for and against Chamberlain’s Policy of Appeasement. Now that the class has acquired an informed understanding of the events, the students need to evaluate Chamberlain’s policy. students reassemble in their original groups (1.b) and, using the evidence gathered, decide on the five strongest arguments for and five strongest arguments against Chamberlain’s decision to follow a policy of appeasement. Arguments to be presented supported by historical evidence. The whole class should discuss each group’s decision.

16 3. Construct an Argument to Support Conclusions (final)
Students individually construct a report, persuasive essay, oral presentation in response to the dilemma: Why Did British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Appease Hitler in 1938? All students have now acquired an understanding of the key arguments. Because individual students were actively involved in the historical dilemma and their understanding of the period was structured in an accessible and meaningful way, they are more able to undertake the difficult task of evaluating Chamberlain’s actions. HISTORICAL EMPATHY Unit and materials adapted from Foster, 1999

17 Link to Historical Empathy
Lesson critique Historical empathy: understanding why people in the past acted the way they did, doing the discipline. What we did Link to Historical Empathy

18 References Foster, Stuart .(1999). “Using Historical Empathy to Excite Students about the Study of History: Can You Empathise with Neville Chamberlain?” The Social Studies, Jan/Feb. Gallagher, Shaun. (1992). Hermeneutics and Education. New York, State University of New York Press. Hamilton, Paul. (2007). Historicism. New York, Routledge/ “History and Empathy: Seminar notes Prepared by M. Leckey, University of Melbourne.” Lee, Peter. (1991). “Historical Knowledge and the National Curriculum” in Aldrich, Richard (ed.). History in the National Curriculum. London, University of London. Lévesque, Stéphane. (2008). Thinking Historically: educating students for the 21st century . Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

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