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

Alan McCully, K.C. Barton

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    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 - 2005


    • Northern Ireland
    • student ideas
    • community history


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