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Learning in History

Historical concepts and skills

In the History curriculum, students have the opportunity to develop historical understanding through the application of the following historical concepts and skills:

  • sequencing chronology
  • using historical sources as evidence
  • identifying continuity and change
  • analysing causes and effect,  and
  • determining historical significance.

These concepts and skills are fundamental in giving the discipline of history its structure.  

Sequencing chronology

Chronology involves the arrangement of events in order of time. However, the sequencing of events is not an end in itself. It allows students to understand the sequence and flow of events and identify patterns of continuity and change, analyse cause and effect, distinguish between long-term causes and short-term triggers and provides the starting point and basis of explanatory narratives about the past.

Using historical sources as evidence

Primary sources are the building blocks of historical thinking and are fundamental to students’ understanding and interpretation of the past. They are created at the time of the event or shortly afterwards and may be visual, written, audio, audio-visual and artefacts. Primary sources provide perspectives of those who experienced and witnessed both the significant turning points and everyday events of the past and provide valuable insights into how events shaped their ethics, ideas and values.  Secondary sources, such as textbooks or historical interpretations made by historians or commentators, often draw on primary sources to present arguments or interpretations of the past. When using historical sources as evidence, students draw on historical perspectives and interpretations when constructing arguments about the past.

Exploring historical perspectives: Students understand historical perspectives through exploring the point of view, attitudes, values and beliefs of people in the past.  Students also consider the thoughts, feelings and reasons for action of people in the past. Students consider the mindsets of historical actors and the ways that context shaped the ways they saw and acted in the world. Exploring perspectives involves the identification and description of the viewpoints of witnesses to events who experienced the consequences or lived with their changes. It invites students to consider, for example, what may have it been like to be a slave in Ancient Egypt or a gold seeker in Ballarat. Students should be encouraged to engage with multiple perspectives. People in the past may have seen and interpreted events differently from different contexts. Students also explore the less-heard voices of the past such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the illiterate, or women, to provide a rich narrative and inquiry. This allows students to critically challenge or corroborate sources and assess their reliability.

Explaining historical interpretations: Historians provide interpretations of the past based on their own reading of sources. Through questioning interpretations, students understand that different historical interpretations may be open to debate and contestation. For example: What does a particular historian identify as the significant causes/consequences/significance of the event?  How does the interpretation of this historian differ from that of another historian? How does this interpretation compare with my own knowledge?

Using historical sources as evidence, students are required to ask analytical and evaluative questions of the sources so they can be used as evidence when creating historical explanations and constructing historical arguments. Students identify the origin, content features, and purpose of sources.  They learn to explain the context of sources, corroborate (compare and contrast) them with other sources and make judgments about their accuracy, usefulness and reliability. Historical questions about sources could include: What type of source is this? Who wrote or created it? Why did they write or create it? What was happening at the time the source was created? Who was the intended audience? How does it compare with other sources about the same person or event? How accurate is this source?

Identifying continuity and change

Developing students’ ability to make sense of the past includes developing the ability to identify when the change occurred and when things continued unchanged. To identify continuity and change students should understand the significance of events, ideas, people and groups. The use of narratives and timelines as a starting point helps support students’ understanding of the sequence of events. Students should be able to identify turning points that caused change and use language to describe the speed, rate and the extent of change that was brought.  Exploring questions allows students to understand that continuity and change involve multifaceted factors. 

Analysing cause and effect

Students identify chains of cause and effect to examine how and why things happened in the past. In so doing, they identify different kinds of causes, including social, political, economic, short-term catalysts or triggers and long-term trends. They may organise causes and effects using chronology and examine the role of individuals and movements in shaping, promoting and resisting change.

Narratives are a good starting point for identifying significant causes. Students can use timelines to map and organise events, people, ideas, movements and turning points to identify links between causes and effects and to distinguish between long-term (trends) and short-term (triggers) causes of events.

Determining historical significance

Historical significance concerns the importance that is assigned to particular aspects of the past. Determining historical significance involves making evaluative judgments about the past. To establish the historical significance of a trend, an event, an idea, an individual or a group, students use questions or criteria such as: How important was it to people who lived at that time? How many people were affected? How were people’s lives changed? How long lasting were the consequences? What is its legacy?

Information Communication Technologies and History

Information Communication Technologies (ICT) are powerful tools that can support student learning. Students can develop and demonstrate their understanding of concepts and content in History through using a range of ICT tools. It is also important that students know how to use these ICT efficiently and responsibly, as well as learning how to protect themselves and secure their data.

Details of how ICT can support student learning in History is set out in the attached Information Communication Technologies and History pdf.


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