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Exploring an historical gaze: A language of description for the practice of school history

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This paper brings a sociology of knowledge lens to the practice of school history. It is set against a backdrop of curriculum reform in post-apartheid South Africa, which has embraced a competence curriculum with a strong focus on the generic skills (outcomes) that learners should develop at school. This study argues that history as a discipline has both specialized substantive knowledge and specialized procedural knowledge. This paper describes the specialist nature of history knowledge as understood by those in the field of history education and maps this onto the work of Dowling in mathematics education. As the discipline of history is recontextualized into the school classroom, teachers and textbook writers will vary the degree of specialization of both procedural and substantive knowledge in order to make the knowledge accessible to learners. I suggest that having a clearer descriptive language for the domains of school history practice can support educators in making more conscious decisions about how best to move learners into the specialized domain where they begin to develop an historical gaze, and thus gain epistemological access to powerful knowledge structures.

Keywords: South Africa; competence curriculum; disciplinary knowledge; historical thinking; history curriculum

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2012

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