Presentation on theme: "From Bottlenecks to Epistemology: Decoding History Leah Shopkow with Arlene Diaz, Joan Middendorf, and David Pace Bottlenecks reveal naïve ways of operating."— Presentation transcript:
From Bottlenecks to Epistemology: Decoding History Leah Shopkow with Arlene Diaz, Joan Middendorf, and David Pace Bottlenecks reveal naïve ways of operating and point to what is not understood about the ways of operating in the discipline. We are calling for epistemology to be moved from the periphery to become the core of teaching—as central to teaching as it is to research. Students think professional historians “study historical facts, examine historical documents and artifacts, write about historical events, solve historical mysteries and travel and discover new artifacts” (p. 25). From the expert viewpoint this “response still defaults to seeing history as a singularity, something that can be clear, rather than the rather ambiguous and contested subject historians produce” (p. 26). The below table is excerpted and paraphrased from Shopkow et al’s “Table 1.1. How Some Bottlenecks in History Correspond to History’s Epistemology.” Example of a bottleneck Appears in student work asStudent misconceptionImplicit epistemological issue Difficulty developing a historical argument (Interpretation) A student essay without any argument. The essay may be a simple narrative that tells “what happened” or may be a list of factual material. The job of a historian is to tell stories about the past, and is unaware that historians make arguments through scholarly writing. While historians sometimes tell “what happened,” they do so in aid of advancing a particular argument about the meaning of the past and they recognize that they must explain the meaning of the evidence as well as present it. Far from speaking for itself, the past needs historians to reconstruct it and speak about its meaning. Not taking the perspective of people in the past (Presentism) A student presents people in the past as “stupid” or “primitive” or “immoral” for not acting in particular ways. A student makes assumptions in writing about the past based on his or her own experiences and ideas. People in the past basically thought about things as modern people do. When they don’t behave like modern people, there must be something wrong with them. Past conduct is judged by current culture. Historian’s recognize that most people’s ideas are constrained by positionality (their culture, education, social position). Historians know that people in the past lived in cultures quite different from modern culture and that these cultures need to be reconstructed to the degree this is possible. The historian is committed to reconstructing why a historical actor might have thought or spoken as he or she did, while at the same time recognizing to the degree possible the ways in which the culture being examined is different from the historian’s own. Ignoring significance A student provides a narrative or a long list of facts, but doesn’t explain why the narrative or facts are important or presents a trivial argument. They are not aware or don’t care what, if anything, is at stake in the story he or she is telling. While historians do provide abundant factual information and also tell stories, most historians would argue that what separates historians from antiquarians is that historians should answer the “so what?” question, they should explain why a particular subject is worth investigating and the meaning they see lying in the material. Intolerance for ambiguity A student makes a seemingly arbitrary choice about what argument to make or cannot decide between two scholarly arguments and resolves the difference by taking from both. Students are challenged by situations where scholars themselves aren’t fully sure of what happened or argue over what it means, because they don’t see history as probabilistic or contested. Much evidence from the past is fragmentary and historians do not necessarily agree on its meaning. Historians do not expect history to be a zone of undeniable truth, even though they are committed to their own ideas. They are aware not only that other historians may demolish their arguments and that they themselves may come to think they were in error, but also that in many cases there may be no grounds from within the discipline of history to determine which interpretations are correct. Difficulty maintaining appropriate emotional distance A student rants in an assignment rather than providing evidence or making an intellectual argument or omits information or parrots what the teacher has said. The student wants to be “fair” or identifies only with one side, and assumes that all knowledge about the past is equal. Historians cannot let their passions run before the evidence. Even when evidence is upsetting, historians are expected to police their own emotions and to take the perspectives of even repugnant actors. Historians interrogate vernacular history and discard it if it can’t be sustained by academic history methods. Shopkow, L., Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2013). From bottlenecks to epistemology: Changing the conversation about the teaching of history in colleges and Universities. In R. Thompson (ed.) Changing the Conversation of Higher Education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. Shopkow, L., Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2013). The History Learning Project “Decodes” a Discipline: The Union of Teaching and Epistemology. In Kathleen McKinney (ed.) Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.