The disciplined winds blow in from the West: The forgotten epistemic inheritance of historical thinking

Bryan Smith


In various jurisdictions around the world, the methods of historical thinking have come to frame and organise how history education is taught. These methods, informed by robust and ample research, offer students a comprehensive entry into historical knowledge construction. Moreover, these methods help shift history away from a transmission centric approach towards one that asks students to engage the past and employ disciplinary thinking skills to construct and engage the past. While such an approach can be helpful in driving new approaches to the past, it’s theorisation and scholarship is largely predicated on a normalised and unquestioned Western inheritance, the result of which is the expression of pedagogical method that reinscribes Western ways of knowing. In this paper, I argue that, as a result, historical thinking is often (re)presented without due consideration of both (a) how historical thinking is presented and assumed as universally transferable and; (b) done so without attention paid to the subjectivities that give rise to its conceptual base. Such practices, quintessentially Western in nature, pose challenges in settler contexts where teachers and students are being asked to begin the difficult work of unpacking and questioning Western and colonial knowledges and ways of knowing. While this is not to suggest that we dispense with historical thinking, the normalised presence of an (implied) universally applicable method raises necessary questions about the work yet to be done in complicating not just what students learn but how they do so.


History education; Western practice; disciplinary methods; critical history; decolonising pedagogy

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