Teaching History – Teaching both sides of the story

What is history? We know that history is the past. But history is also defined as a ‘continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account’.

History can be like a car crash. Two cars crash into each other and as they crash there are eyewitnesses on both sides of the street who saw it happen or who say they saw something happen. Historians are like detectives that go in after the accident and try to piece together what has happened, gathering the evidence, listening to eyewitnesses to get a complete picture of what has taken place.

But who writes history? It is the historian who writes what happened. How can it be historically accurate if we are not investigating both sides of the story? When studying historical sources about the First World War and the Second World War, are we reading about just the important events? What is left out of the narrative? Who is writing the history that we are using? What point of view are we not hearing?

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For example, if we were to use Australian history and the First World War which is dominated by the Anzac landings at Gallipoli. What of the point of view of the landings from the defending turkish soldiers and people? What about the point of view of Aboriginal soldiers at Gallipoli? What about the point of view of Maori soldiers, Indian soldiers and French soldiers?

Getting different views and perspectives makes the story complete. If we were to look at the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia or the colonisation of Australia, the dominant history has always been the Anglo-Saxon male perspective of history. There has been a tendency for historians to provide only the dominant narrative of history, which excludes other narratives or ‘voices’ of history.

Including different perspectives in teaching history will develop student’s critical analysis skills to understand that there are other points of view. Students are bombarded with information daily on the internet, on television, on the radio, on billboards etc.  Students need to understand that there are always more than one point of view in the information that they receive. Including different perspectives will help students to investigate and listen to different points of view, making their own judgments and formulating their own points of view.

Using different perspectives is also an important part of Inclusion where we accept students from different backgrounds and learning abilities into our classrooms. To make students feel that their backgrounds and perspectives are included in the learning. For example when discussing the First World War, teachers should also include the perspectives of Indigenous Australian soldiers for their reasons for volunteering to fight and their experiences. Using different perspectives will make students feel that their own backgrounds are recognised and feel welcome in the classroom.

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