Over the past several weeks I’ve been compelled to put the things we’ve been reading and learning about into action in the form of some practical instructional device. To that end I made a mobile web-app that contained an example of how to get history teachers to think differently about teaching history, and create some history. By the time I finished the app and my blog post I felt really confused and that the thing I created wasn’t very focused. What was my message? Where do I go from here? I decided to re-read Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking hoping to see some things I may have missed before, contemplate the work I’ve done, and figure out how to proceed.
Having re-read Historical Thinking, I remain confused.
If someone said “What does Sam Wineburg think about how to think historically,” I don’t know that I could answer very clearly. He does say several things that I believe back up my approach to rethinking how to teach history. While I mentioned in my last post that one valid critique might be that there is no real assessment built into the module, at least in terms of reciting facts or dates. In chapter 2 Wineburg quotes Bell and McCollums’ list of how historical thinking might be assessed. He notes that ability to recite facts and dates is “the least important type of historical ability” (Wineburg quoting Bell and McCollum, pg 32). Wineburg also says “It is not enough to expose students to alternative visions of the past, already digested and interpreted by others. The only way we can come to understand the past’s multiplicity is by the direct experience of having to tell it, of having to sort through the welter of the past’s conflicting visions and produce a story written by our own hand. We have in mind here a vision of history classrooms where students learn the subject by rewriting it. Students come to develop a sensitivity to multiple stories because they have wrestled with them, not as arbiters of others’ accounts but as authors of their own” (131). The first activity in the module is for students to make their own mash up of actual historical events. This requires that they understand both events well enough to mix together in a meaningful way. I believe this falls inline with Wineburg’s idea of developing historical thinking.
Of course there are aspects of Wineburg’s concept of historical thinking that aren’t directly addressed or may be served poorly by the module I have created. Chapter 4 is about contextualized thinking- thinking about the past from the mindset of someone who was there, not with your own mindset. ” Judging past actors by present standards wrests them from their own context and subjects them to ways of thinking that we, not they, have developed. Presentism, the act of viewing the past through the lens of the present, is a psychological default state that must be overcome before one achieves mature historical understanding” (90). It seems like asking the students to create mashups would probably foster a certain amount of presentism, by virtue of the fact that is essentially a creative construction shown through the lens of the individual students.
As I said at the start of this post, I remain confused. I find Wineburg to be contradictory at times. He advocates for students to be actively involved in making history, but does not clarify how presentism can be kept out of that endeavor. Isn’t the creation of a new narrative immediately de-contextualizing? I don’t know. I also don’t know how to proceed from here. I’m compelled to continue making practical learning examples, but I don’t know that I am on the right path