Notes and suggestions on content and method
The students are now entering the age of adulthood and so are ready to take full responsibility for their participation in lessons. They can, therefore, very well be given the task of preparing and presenting sections of lessons involving the review of previously covered material. The remit of the lessons is now to provide a deeper sense of the subject as a whole, in other words to bring into play those aspects of the subject that can help these young adults lead responsible lives, both personally and socially. This means: actively involving the students in evaluating everything they have learned up to now, looking at what is entailed in the structuring of history, and reflecting upon the nature of history itself in relation to the level of insight, the direction of inquiry and the intentions behind particular historical narratives. Above all, this means that the contribution history can make towards understanding our current situation should be actively exploited by taking problems arising from current affairs and treating them as historical questions. Dealing with such questions can involve tackling specific conflicts, wars, crises as they are happening, or taking a more general approach. As a rule there will be an interplay between these two aspects – they certainly do not exclude each other.
History-teaching of such a quality will help the students come to see historical narrative as an intention-dependent product of the human mind. On the other hand, it also enables them to test the possibility of bringing their own questions to bear upon a range of phenomena and, through considering how they develop in relation to each other, making sense of them. This opens up the potential of acquiring a finely-tuned sense of history and, with it, of developing historical competence to the point of being able to work with it independently.
Since taking such a theoretical approach makes certain special demands, there follows a sketch of how this idea could be put into practice.
In order to provide a suitable basis for the kind of reflective activity intended in this first main lesson block, it would probably be best to begin on two fronts, the one being the philosophy of history, the other being student-centred; in other words, the students would be asked to put together a comprehensive survey of all the material on cultural history previously covered, although this would involve the teacher presenting some new additional material as well. Approaching the problem of dividing history into periods, as well as coming to terms with the notion of history as narrative with inbuilt intentions can be accomplished through reflecting upon the nature of time, either in the abstract, or in terms of concrete events defined by a certain duration. Following on from this, by comparing various different ways of grounding historical periods, the students can be made aware that historical change can be described and interpreted differently according to the intentional framework. Through studying lengthy extracts from the writings of philosophers of history (e.g. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Jaspers [Arnold Toynbee, G.M. Trevelyan etc. etc. etc.]) and other additional information, some of the well-known varieties of historical discourse can be distinguished (e.g. classical, teleological, focused upon the principle of salvation or upon the history of consciousness, Marxist, sociological, and economically oriented). Carrying on from here, using the material gathered by the students from the work of previous years together with further primary and secondary source materials, key changes in cultural history can be considered in terms of the following categories:
- the relationship between human beings and nature (conception of nature, exploitation of nature, work)
- forms of society (clan and family, different forms of state and their modes of legitimation)
- ideas on pre-existence and the after-life
The material covers the following cultural phases:
- the advent of settled existence
- theocratic civilisations
- European Antiquity
- Middle Ages
- early modern times
- 18th/19th centuries
- modern times up to the present
The concepts required for understanding historical change can be made much clearer by comparing the processes that have shaped specific areas of human life; areas such as the world of work, social forms (distinguishing perhaps between family and society/state), ideas of human nature and the nature of the world (e.g. in relation to ideas of the after-life). Taking a student-centred approach here (teamwork, research projects, presentations) will make the subsequent task of evaluating the effects of the previous years’ work upon the growth of the students’ historical consciousness all the easier. Further refining of the ability to understand historical change can be accomplished through similar treatment of other cultural-historical phenomena, such as the history of the warrior and the idea of war, the history of human individualisation (and its counter-tendency), or the history of globalisation.
This suggestion for the class 12 curriculum favours an approach based upon cultural history (which can also be understood as a history of consciousness). Once the world of current events comes into the picture, of course, it inevitably acquires a political dimension. This, in turn, demands a world-historical perspective, which, through the elements of philosophy and historical narrative theory included, has the necessary richness of context. Thus, in addition to its breadth, the time-structure of the main lesson acquires a certain depth as well. The lesson could, of course, be done in an entirely different way, but however it is conceived, the aim is the same; namely, to lead the students towards basic questions concerning the meaning of human life and of their own identity, as well as awakening their political aspirations for a society based on cultural diversity and respect for human dignity.
It is in the second history block in class 12 that the political, social and cultural phenomena of the present era (20th/21st century) come into their own. This can also find a place in history running lessons, and, where appropriate, in connection with preparations for state examinations. In view of the highly complex problems involved, and the moral and intellectual abyss that opens up in our most recent history, attention is necessarily focussed on the mind, social nature and political and individual responsibility of the human being. The context of this topic can be deepened by viewing and discussing it in connection with ideas of human nature and evolutionary assumptions identifiably at work in history, or by critical reflection upon the power of certain interpretations of history in the formation of collective (national) identities, and how such interpretations can be integrated into an approach which takes multiple perspectives into account.
Suggested lesson content
- some aspects of the philosophy of history, showing its narrative character and providing a conceptual framework for understanding how it is structured
- finding evidence of cultural change in source material; documentation and reconstruction of what was learnt from the history main lessons of previous years
- integration of current events into their historical context, together with consideration of the developments that can be expected from them
- inevitable interpretive bias of historical narrative and the consequent need for historical writing that is inter-cultural in intention to take the form of dialogue
- the effects of European imperialism both then and now
- the historical upheavals represented by the First World War (the First World War as the primal catastrophe of the 20th century)
- the ideological basis of totalitarian systems and their political and human consequences
- the structure, aims and political significance of supra-national organisations
- the structure and phases of the East-West conflict
- the struggle for autonomy and justice in the historical processes of the 20th and 21st centuries
- the importance of ecology, peace, security, education and inter-cultural understanding within the process of globalisation