ERIC Number: ED368608
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1990
The Nature of Contemporary History. Occasional Paper.
Gaddis, John Lewis
This document addresses the importance of teaching contemporary history. The failure to teach contemporary history leaves students ill equipped to deal with the present and the future, and also ensures that they will have little interest in the history of other times. Because memory is the central organizing principle in peoples minds, the prospect of the nation losing its collective memory is an appalling prospect. Teaching history is difficult because citizens live in a present-oriented culture that forces most history teachers to cram their subject into a present-oriented curriculum that allows it little room. The single greatest impediment to the effective teaching of history is the tendency on the part of teachers and textbooks to separate the past from the present. Until the late 19th century, most historians did not believe that the past had to be separated from the present. The idea of stopping history short of the present was the result of professionalization as academic historians sought to establish their field as an autonomous discipline. History is controversial, and fear of controversy is why history teachers shy away from relating the past to the present. But history can transmit acquired skills from one generation to another by: (1) overcoming ignorance and egocentrism; (2) enabling people to see the work of long term forces; (3) teaching about contingency; and (4) showing how human behavior, tectonic forces, and contingency can intersect one another. (DK)
Descriptors: Controversial Issues (Course Content), Higher Education, Historiography, History Instruction, Modern History, Primary Sources, Secondary Education, Social History, Student Attitudes
National Council for History Education, Inc., 26915 Westwood Rd., Suite B-2, Westlake, OH 44145-4656.
Publication Type: Information Analyses; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: Teachers; Practitioners
Authoring Institution: National Council for History Education, Inc., Westlake, OH.