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ERIC Number: EJ791705
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008-Feb
Pages: 7
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0018-2745
The Fact/Narrative Distinction and Student Examinations in History
Immerwahr, Daniel
History Teacher, v41 n2 p199-205 Feb 2008
While it is true that every history is composed of facts, there is something more to history, something that makes it more than just the sum of its factual claims. That something is called narrative. A narrative is not simply a story (although it may be that). Rather, it is a structure for organizing factual claims. As many historians have noted, it is impossible to write coherent and legible history without relying on narratives. Although fact/narrative distinction is instinctively grasped by all practicing historians, the author contends that historians could do a better job of passing it on to their students. In particular, the author argues that the examinations most often given to history students in college-level courses do not test a student's grasp of historical narratives as directly as they might. The problem of how memorization (facts) can be sorted from comprehension (narratives) is not a novel problem in pedagogy. As math instructors have devised enough time-tested ways of distinguishing memorization from understanding, the author asserts that historians have much to learn from their colleagues in mathematics (and in other sciences, as well). They need to learn how to test the comprehension of narratives in isolation from the memorization of facts. In this article, the author presents three examples of questions from the subject of U.S. history that historians might ask in order to test directly a student's historical comprehension. (Contains 5 endnotes.)
Society for History Education. California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840-1601. Tel: 562-985-2573; Fax: 562-985-5431; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A