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Open Access How Swiss primary students interpret a national monument

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Since historical monuments are often difficult to interpret, this study commences with the questions, how do students understand historical monuments and in what ways are they able to describe and interpret them? The focus of our paper is a monument showing Arnold Winkelried, a leading Swiss national figure that nine Swiss students of Grades 5 and 6 studied. Winkelried is a legendary Swiss hero who sacrificed himself to bring about Swiss victory over the Austrian Habsburgs in the Battle of Sempach in 1386. As an iconic, symbolic source of Swiss national cultural heritage, he is representative of the establishment of the young Swiss Federation's history culture in the second half of the nineteenth century. The study's mainly oral research data was collected by means of focus groups (Bohnsack, 2010). The discussions with the students were recorded, transcribed and analysed using a documentary method (Straub, 1999), that is, we reconstructed typical patterns of description. The findings first indicated that students find it difficult to observe and describe such monuments appropriately. Indeed, the students tended to begin the process by guessing what they were observing. Second, the findings show that through the interviewer's prompts – accurate observations and descriptions – during the focus group sessions, students can activate prior knowledge and thus engage with the historical topic.
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Keywords: CULTURE OF REMEMBRANCE; HISTORY CULTURE; MONUMENTS; NATIONAL IDENTITY; PRIMARY STUDENTS; PUBLIC HISTORY; PUBLIC SPACE; SWISS HISTORY; SWITZERLAND

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 26 October 2018

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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