Learning history and inheriting the past:The interaction of school and community perspectives in Northern Ireland

Alan McCully, K.C. Barton

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Downloads (Pure)


    Abstract. This paper reports initial findings from a study of secondary students’ ideas about history and history education. This is a crucial topic for investigation in Northern Ireland, where history plays a contentious role in popular discussion and community conflict, and where one purpose of the school curriculum is to provide alternatives to the sectarian historical perspectives students may encounter elsewhere. This study involved open-ended, semi-structured interviews with 253 students from a variety of social backgrounds. The study is grounded in a constructivist and socio-cultural perspective on human learning, which assumes that students do not passively absorb the knowledge or ideas of those around them but develop their own perspectives based on a variety of influences both in school and out; these perspectives, meanwhile, are fundamentally guided by constructions of a sense of purpose for learning. Data from this study demonstrated the strong impact of community influences—particularly family members—on students’ ideas about history, but interviews also revealed that students consciously and explicitly expected school to provide alternatives to those influences. These findings suggest that school history might benefit from more directly engaging students’ prior ideas about history and the purposes for learning it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    JournalInternational Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2005

    Bibliographical note

    Reference text: Barton, K. C. (2001). ‘You’d be Wanting to Know About the Past’: Social Contexts of Children’s Historical Understanding in Northern Ireland and the United States. Comparative Education 37, 89-106.

    Barton, K. C., & McCully, A. W. (2005). History, Identity, and the School Curriculum in Northern Ireland: An Empirical Study of Secondary Students’ Ideas and Perspectives. Journal of Curriculum Studies Vol.37, No. 1, 85-116.

    Barton, K. C., McCully, A. W., & Conway, M. (2003). History Education and National Identity in Northern Ireland. International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research, 3. Journal online at http://www.ex.ac.uk/historyresource/journalstart.htm

    Cole, M. (1998). Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

    Department of Education, Northern Ireland. (1996). The Northern Ireland Curriculum, Key Stages 3 and 4: Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets. Department of Education, Northern Ireland, Belfast.

    McCully, A., & Pilgrim, N. (2004). “They Took Ireland Away From Us and We’ve Got to Fight to Get It Back’: Using Fictional Characters to Explore the Relationship between Historical Interpretation and Contemporary Attitudes. Teaching History 114, 17-21.

    McCully, A., Pilgrim, N., Sutherland, A., & McMinn, T. (2002). ‘Don’t Worry Mr. Trimble, We Can Handle It’: Balancing the Rational and Emotional in the Teaching of Contentious Topics. Teaching History 105, 6-12.

    Seixas, P. (1993). Historical Understanding Among Adolescents in a Multicultural Setting. Curriculum Inquiry 23, 301–327.

    VanSledright, B. A. (1997). And Santayana Lives on: Students’ Views on the Purposes for Studying American History. Journal of Curriculum Studies 29, 529-557.

    Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as Action. Oxford University Press, New York.


    • Northern Ireland
    • student ideas
    • community history


    Dive into the research topics of 'Learning history and inheriting the past:The interaction of school and community perspectives in Northern Ireland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this