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Open Access 'One has to take leave as much as possible of one's own standards and values': Improving and measuring historical empathy and perspective reconstruction

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Historical empathy or perspective taking has been a bone of contention in studies on history teaching, and the concept remains ill-defined. This may have been caused by a lack of theoretical reflection, as well as by the application of diverse research methods: a more cognitive or 'rational' explanation of the concept has often been substantiated by quantitative methods, while the more affective dimension has regularly been explored by qualitative methods. In this contribution, we trace some theoretical backgrounds of 'empathy' in historical theory as well as social psychology. Then we present a mixed-methods study employing a quantitative standardized measure developed in previous research in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as qualitative measurements. Results suggest that while, on the one hand, the standardized measure proved to be unreliable, both quantitative and qualitative methods can shed more light on what is going on when students try to take the point of view of historical agents. Based on theory, as well as our explorations, our conclusion is that empathy or perspective taking should be seen as a cognitive operation. We propose to see the reconstruction of historical perspectives as a specific element of historical explanation, not as a separate concept of 'historical empathy' or 'historical perspective taking'.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • The History Education Research Journal (HERJ) is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the global significance and impact of history education. It covers all aspects of history education theory, scholarship, and pure and applied research. Articles illuminate contemporary issues, concerns, policies and practice, drawing upon the eclectic research methodologies of history education. The journal is published in partnership with the Historical Association.

    HERJ is a relaunch of the International Journal of Historical Learning Teaching and Research. All past issues up to and including vol. 15, no. 1 were published under this title. HERJ vol. 15, no. 2 is the first to be published by UCL IOE Press.
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