Finnish high school students’ and university students’ ability to handle multiple source documents in History

Jukka Rantala, Marko van den Berg


This article presents a study where the command of historical literacy of both Finnish high school students (N=18) and university students (N=11) was examined. Both groups were in their final year of study. The high school students had a strong tendency to interpret historical sources rather one-sidedly: only a few were able to “read between the lines.” These students were thus on a novice-level when it came to interpreting these sources. However, the university students showed a higher command of historical literacy. They were not only able to differentiate between primary and secondary sources, but could also evaluate the origin of the source and the effect that might have had on the reliability of the source. University students were also able to make comparisons between the different sources while evaluating their credibility. In addition, some of them could view the case in question in a larger social context as well. In this article we will reflect on these differences between high school students and university students in their historical literacy skills. We will also discuss how the goals of history teaching in high schools are met in the light of our findings.


Historical Literacy; History Teaching; High School Students; University Students; Finland

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Copyright (c) 2016 Jukka Rantala, Marko van den Berg

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