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Balancing between the present and the past

Promoting students’ ability to perform historical contextualization
PhD ceremony:dr. T.D. (Tim) Huijgen
When:October 18, 2018
Start:11:00
Supervisors:prof. dr. W.J.C.M. (Wim) van de Grift, prof. dr. C.A.M. van Boxtel
Co-supervisor:dr. P. (Paul) Holthuis
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
Balancing between the present and the past

‘Why would you burn witches? They do not exist!’ Such statements are familiar for history teachers. Whether it concerns witch hunts, the rise of Hitler, or the exchange of New Amsterdam for Suriname, students find it difficult to explain and interpret such historical events. This is because students often view the past from a present-oriented perspective. Historical contextualization promotes students’ awareness of this perspective and helps them to consider differences in values, beliefs, and knowledge between people. This thesis examined how students’ ability to perform historical contextualization can be increased. First it is investigated how students’ ability to perform historical contextualization can be measured and how students of different ages and educational levels perform this ability. Subsequently, it is examined how history teachers promote historical contextualization in their classrooms. Finally, classroom materials that can promote students’ ability to perform historical contextualization were tested. The results indicate that historical contextualization must be explicitly taught to students of different ages and educational levels, not only to students in upper secondary education but also to students in lower secondary and elementary education. Furthermore, history teachers should engage students more in historical contextualization processes and not only demonstrate historical contextualization themselves. The four tested design principles (raising awareness of present-oriented perspectives, reconstructing a historical context, promoting historical empathy, and the use of historical contextualization to explain and interpret historical phenomena) can help teachers to increase students’ ability to perform historical contextualization.