“Don’t worry, Mr. Trimble, we can handle it” : balancing the emotional with the rational in teaching of contentious topics

Alan McCully, Nigel Pilgrim, Aleric Sutherland, Tara McMinn

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    A common line amongst teachers and policy-makers seeking to theorise a workable relationship between history and the new subject of citizenship is to say that there must be a link with the present. This is harder than it sounds. if the implication is that the study of the past should impact in some way on how pupils operate in or reflect upon the present, then difficulties instantly appear. We are used to debating those difficulties associated with preserving the integrity of the discipline but what of the starker, practical problem of whether such an effect on present attitudes is even possible? Drawing on their experience in northern ireland, the authors question some of the assumptions associated with the supposed impact of our traditional teaching and learning approaches ("traditional" in much of the UK since the influential Schools Council History project was launched in the 1970s). They argue that these do not necessarily shift pupils' preconceptions. After engaging in critical thionking using sources, pupils often revert to the preconceptions ingrained by stronger influences of the local community. Using the curricular idea of 'interpretations of history' as theorised by McAleavy and others, the authors attempted to tackle this problem. Pupils from largely Protestant working class estates managed to sustain critical reflection on how understandings of past and present interact.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-12
    JournalTeaching History
    Issue number106
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2002

    Bibliographical note

    Reference text: Arlow M. (1999) 'Citizenship education in a Contested Society', Development education Journal, Vol.6, no.1
    Phillips, R., Goalen, P., McCully, A. & Wood, S. (1999) History Teaching, Nationhood and a British Identity; Past, Present and Future Compare, Vol.29 No.2
    McCully, A. (1997) The Northern Ireland History Curriculum and National Identity, in A. Pendry and C. O'Neill ed. Principles and Practice: Analytical Perspectives on Curriculum Reform and Changing Pedagogy from History Teacher Educators, SCHTE, Lancaster
    McAleavy A. (1993) 'Using the Attainment targets in Key stage 3: Attainment target 2, Interpretations of History, Teaching History, 72
    McAleavy A. (20000 Teaching about Historical Interpretations, R. Phillips and J. Arthur (eds) Isssues in history teaching, Routledge.
    .McCully A. and Barton K.C. (2002) National Identity and the History Curriculum in Northern Ireland: An Empirical Study of Students’ Ideas and Beliefs, in McCully A. and O’Neill C. (eds) Values in Teacher Education and Research, Lancaster: HTEN
    Wrenn A. (1999) 'Build it in, don't bolt it on: history's opportunity to support critical citizenship', Teaching History, 96.


    • National Identity
    • Controversial issues
    • Interpretations


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