Domains and “knowing history”

One of the themes that appears in both the Wineburg and Gee books that we have read so far is the idea of domain and situated meanings. Gee writes: “Words, symbols, images, and artifacts have meanings that are specific to particular semiotic domains and particular situations (contexts). They do not just have general meanings.(25)” Wineburg writes: “domains, as Louis O. Mink reminded us, go beyond compilations of facts and concepts or executions of productions. They constitute “unique and irreducible modes of comprehending the world,” sweeping ways of organizing experience and conducting inquiry into who we are. Thus, the topic of Western mountain ranges means one thing to a geologist, another to a historian, and still another to Ansel Adams. (80)” It seems logical that a person’s background and affinity group would effect their understanding and interpretation of history.  At the same time Wineburg writes about avoiding “presentism,” and I am truly interested in how or why the past should not be interpreted through the lens of the present. By that I mean that it makes perfect sense to try to conceptualize the context in which a historical event happens but to make meaning and gain knowledge it needs to be compared to current norms.

Another interesting thing from Wineburg’s book is the idea of “knowing history.” “After a year of teaching American history, Fred had learned vast amounts of historical information. He took and passed with flying colors the National Teachers Examination in history. Does this mean that Fred knows history? (153)” He goes on to say that not all of the teachers in the study had a “robust sense of history.” I would like to know if Wineburg considers himself to have a “robust sense of history.” Who decides what having a sense of history means?

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