ship to various historical periods. Indeed, all of the familiar features of history classrooms—textbooks, lectures, primary sources, maps, time lines, and even worksheets—take on new meaning for students when viewed as historical accounts.
This approach does not preclude using themes, such as changes in migration, ideas, or political culture, but rather forces teachers to anchor their themes in the issues of historical representation and interpretation. Nor does a focus on interpretation favor process at the expense of facts. In looking carefully at historical accounts, we must teach historical facts; more important however, we must also raise questions about why we should (or whether we should) consider particular sets of facts important. The study of interpretations demands that students look carefully at the ways people use facts to form and support historical accounts. Indeed, factual understanding becomes even more significant as students grapple with how people use facts in representing the past.
Moreover, a focus on multiple, shifting accounts does not mean students will hold all accounts to be equally compelling or plausible; rather, like historians, students must develop tools to evaluate and access competing stories of the past, considering evidence and argument while learning to judge what constitutes sound historical reasoning. In systematically questioning historical interpretations over the course of a school year, we can help students understand that accounts differ, and that those differences lie in the questions authors ask, the criteria they use to select evidence, and the spatial and temporal backdrop people use to tell their stories.
Therefore, I placed the fundamental questions about historical understanding cited earlier at the heart of our study for the year.
In creating historical stories or interpretations, what questions were the historians trying to answer? How did the historians, typically not present at the events they were studying, use evidence from the past to answer their questions and construct explanations or interpretations? Within their accounts, how did the historians determine significance, structure turning points, and explain continuity/change over time? Why do accounts of the same events differ, shift in interpretation, or come into and out of fashion? Are some historical accounts “better” than others? Why? By what standards are we assessing historical accounts? Does it make a difference which version of the past we accept?
Teachers will need to explicitly introduce and help students frame central problems and concepts at the outset of a course and use them regularly, even before the students fully understand them. That is what I did, using the distinctions between “the past” and “history” to introduce students to the problems involved in creating and using historical accounts. On the surface, the difference between the past and history appears to be an easy one for students to perceive and understand. But high school teachers know how