How Can We Make Historical Perspective More Central to Active Citizenship?

AHA Session 132
Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Empire Ballroom (Omni Shoreham, Lower Level)
John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College
Jon C. Grinspan, Division of Political History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Patricia Nelson Limerick, Center of the American West, University of Colorado, and Colorado State Historian
Brenda J. Santos, Achievement First
Jessica Choppin Roney, Temple University

Session Abstract

The 2016 version of the American Historical Association’s “History Discipline Core” (HDC) identifies six Core Competencies, the last of which states that students of history can “[u]se historical perspective as central to active citizenship.” This might include, the HDC suggests, applying historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues and developing positions that reflect deliberation, cooperation, and diverse perspectives. The HDC also issues three challenges to historians: (1) how to integrate our discipline’s competencies into general education learning outcomes and institutional missions, (2) how to develop language that helps students and others explain the value of such skills and habits for a wide variety of applications, and (3) how to determine whether students and others have indeed learned the competencies that we claim they have learned. The latter often poses a particular challenge, largely because using historical perspective as central to active citizenship can often seem nebulous and because the ways in which students and others may practice citizenship, especially once they leave our institutions, cannot be easily measured or tracked.

Our session seeks to address some of these challenges by posing three questions to the discussants and to the audience: (1) What are the specific qualities (skills, habits, dispositions) of the discipline of history that make it central to active citizenship? (2) What are some specific strategies that we can use in our respective institutional settings (K-12, colleges/universities, museums) to communicate those qualities more effectively and more widely? (3) What are some assignments that our students have done in which they have had to use historical perspective as central to citizenship and how well have such assignments worked in permitting us to determine how effectively and how centrally they have used historical perspective while acting as citizens?

Our panel approaches these questions from a variety of perspectives: the AHA’s Tuning Project, public history, K-12, and college/university settings. We do not envision or expect that each discussant will speak to all three questions. Patricia Nelson Limerick co-authored the Lumina Foundation grant proposal that funded the Tuning Project and argued strongly that the project explicitly address the discipline’s role in teaching and learning citizenship. Jon Grinspan works as a Curator of Political History in the Political Division of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Arley Pekrul has developed innovative civics curricula for high school students. Jessica Choppin Roney has incorporated the National History Center’s Mock Policy Briefing Program into a course on the history of Philadelphia. John Bezís-Selfa, who will chair the session and moderate discussion, is part of the Tuning Project’s Leadership Core. We anticipate that our session will attract a diverse audience of educators from K-12, colleges and universities, and public historians who wish to discuss in concrete terms and learn more about how our discipline can help to create more active citizens.

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