Are quantitative or mathematical methods becoming more dominant in the 21st century historical research?

Are quantitative or mathematical methods becoming more dominant in the 21st century historical research?

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Most people think that history is all about reading important events in the form of a story or narrative. Rarely do they associate the study of history with mathematics or any quantitative methodologies. Perhaps this is so because most contemporary historical resources, be they in the form of a book or journal article, appear to be qualitative at least. But will the study of history become more math-intensive or quantitative?

One important innovation in 21 century is the use of DNA analysis for historical and pre-historical research. Here is the book which lists some recent achievements: Nicholas Wade, Before the dawn. Discovery of the lost history of our ancestors, Penguin Press, NY 2006.

It is mostly about pre-history, but there are some amazing examples from history as well. (For example it was established that Jefferson had children from one of his slaves. An example from pre-history: it was possible to establish when people started to use cloth, by analyzing the DNA of lice:-). DNA analysis is certainly a quantitative method using many results of various exact sciences.

There are also several archeological dating methods based on exact sciences, but they were known since 20 century. The things like astronomy, chemistry and geophysics (climate history, for example) which are also exact sciences were used even earlier.

Number Sense: the most important mathematical concept in 21st Century K-12 education

Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin takes a deeper look at the notion of number sense described in his previous essay All the mathematical methods I learned in my university math degree became obsolete in my lifetime.

Why Is number sense important? Number sense is important because it encourages students to think flexibly and promotes confidence with numbers. Authors Ann Carlyle and Brenda Mercado anthropomorphize this delightfully in their 2012 book Teaching Preschool and Kindergarten Math as children “making friends with numbers”. Or, as math educator Marilyn Burns observed in her 2007 book About Teaching Mathematics, “students come to understand that numbers are meaningful and outcomes are sensible and expected.”

Again, coming from a focus on mathematics education for children with learning disabilities, Russell Gersten & David Chard wrote in 1999, “Just as our understanding of phonemic awareness has revolutionized the teaching of beginning reading, the influence of number sense on early math development and more complex mathematical thinking carries implications for instruction.” (Gersten & Chard, 1999)

The fact is, students who lack a strong number sense have trouble developing the foundation needed for even simple arithmetic, let alone more complex mathematics. In one study of 180 seventh-graders conducted by the University of Missouri in 2013, researchers found that, “those who lagged behind their peers in a test of core math skills needed to function as adults were the same kids who had the least number sense or fluency way back when they started first grade.” (Neergaard, 2013) Now connect the dots to the sobering fact that 1 in 5 U.S. adults lacks the math competency of a middle school student—leaving them woefully unqualified for most jobs.

How do you teach number sense? A large body of research has shown that number sense develops gradually, over time, as a result of exploration of numbers, visualizing numbers in a variety of contexts, and relating to numbers in different ways.

Burns suggests the following key, research-based teaching strategies to build numbers sense:

  • Model different methods for computing: When a teacher publicly records a number of different approaches to solving a problem–solicited from the class or by introducing her own—it exposes students to strategies that they may not have considered. As Burns explains, “When children think that there is one right way to compute, they focus on learning and applying it, rather than thinking about what makes sense for the numbers at hand.”
  • Ask students regularly to calculate mentally: Mental math encourages students to build on their knowledge about numbers and numerical relationships. When they cannot rely on memorized procedures or hold large quantities in their heads, students are forced to think more flexibly and efficiently, and to consider alternate problem solving strategies. (Parrish, 2010)
  • Have class discussions about strategies for computing: Classroom discussions about strategies help students to crystalize their own thinking while providing them the opportunity to critically evaluate their classmates’ approaches. In guiding the discussion, be sure to track ideas on the board to help students make connections between mathematical thinking and symbolic representation (Conklin & Sheffield, 2012). As noted in Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, the goal is “not to increase the amount of talk but the amount of high quality talk.”
  • Make estimation an integral part of computing: Most of the math that we do every day—deciding when to leave for school, how much paint to buy, what type of tip to leave in a restaurant, which line to get in at the grocery store relies not only on mental math but estimations. However traditional textbook rounding exercises don’t provide the necessary context for students to understand estimating or build number sense. To do that, estimation must be embedded in problem situations.
  • Question students about how they reason numerically. Asking students about their reasoning—both when they make mistakes AND when they arrive at the correct answer—communicates to them that you value their ideas, that math is about reasoning, and, most importantly, that math should make sense to them. Exploring reasoning is also extremely important for the teacher as a formative assessment tool. It helps her understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses, content knowledge, reasoning strategies and misconceptions.
  • Pose numerical problems that have more than one possible answer: Problems with multiple answers provide plenty of opportunities for students to reason numerically. It’s a chance to explore numbers and reasoning perhaps more creatively than if there was “one right answer.”

Burns, Marilyn. About Teaching Mathematics: A K-8 Resource. 3rd ed. Sausalito, CA : Math Solutions, 2007.

Carlyle, Ann, and Brenda Mercado. Teaching Preschool and Kindergarten Math: More than 175 Ideas, Lessons, and Videos for Building Foundations in Math, a Multimedia Professional Learning Resource. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions, 2012.

Conklin, Melissa, and Stephanie Sheffield. It Makes Sense!: Using the Hundreds Chart to Build Number Sense. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions, 2012.

Gersten, Russell and D. Chard, David. “Number Sense: Rethinking Arithmetic Instruction for Students with Mathematical Disabilities.” The Journal of Special Education 33.1 (1999): 18-28.

Neergaard, Lauran. “Early Number Sense Plays Role in Later Math Skills.” ABC News, 2013

Parrish, Sherry. Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions, 2010.


The type of methodology researchers use depends on their research perspective or paradigm. Scholarly conversations in this area have been highly developed for both the quantitative and qualitative paradigms. Over the last decade, mixed methodologists have begun to add to this debate.


Purely quantitative researchers generally work from the positivist-postpositivist paradigm. They believe that phenomena can best be measured and explained using the scientific method, which has been the dominant paradigm throughout the history of social science research. Quantitative researchers use experimental designs in which participants are randomly assigned to a treatment group, the group receiving the specific treatment, or the control group, which is the group not receiving the treatment. For example, in drug studies, some subjects will be randomly assigned to receive a drug and some subjects, assigned to the control group, will receive a placebo. The researchers then may administer a standardized instrument (an assessment that measures the results of the study) to both groups. Statistical analysis is conducted to compare the results.

A second type of design quantitative researchers use is the quasi-experimental design, which includes both treatment and control groups, but subjects are not randomly assigned to either group. Quasi-experimental designs are often used when dealing with intact groups where random assignment is not feasible, such as classrooms of students.

A third design quantitative researchers use is the causal comparative design. In causal comparative studies, the researcher does not impose a treatment. Instead research is done after the fact, or ex post facto. The researcher looks for cause and effect relationships based on group differences. For example, the researcher might investigate how familial support among new mothers is related to their postpartum depression levels.


Purely qualitative researchers work from the interpretive-constructivist paradigm. They believe that the way to understand phenomena is through exploring people’s interpretations. Qualitative researchers use designs such as case study, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and narrative inquiry. Data collection is carried out as naturalistically as possible in the research context through the use of observations, interviews, and collection of documents and records. Some examples of qualitative research include a case study of counseling techniques at a clinic, an ethnography of a school counselor’s day-to-day practice over an extended period of time, and an examination of counselors’ use of intuition in a phenomenological study. While there are many detailed approaches to qualitative analysis, qualitative research is analyzed categorically or thematically the researcher reads the data to identify similarities and dissimilarities.

Mixed Methods

In mixed methods research, the researcher’s paradigm is often pragmatism. Pragmatists believe not only that it is acceptable to use multiple paradigms in the same research study but that qualitative and quantitative methods can be complementary. For a mixed methodologist, “what works” becomes the driving factor. Pragmatists value both the subjective and the objective they believe that the research question is the most important issue. The research question, not the framework, should drive the method. By combining qualitative and quantitative methods, researchers are able to discover issues that might otherwise go undetected. However, critics of pragmatism have dismissed this paradigm as naive, simplistic, and overly applied. A mixed methodologist would contend that an undue focus on theory and paradigms has detracted from the need to focus on the point of research: the research question. The focus on the problem and not theory is one of the reasons mixed methodology has emerged as a field that is demanding respect.

2. Be Able to Implement Technology

The ability to not only learn about the new educational gadgets that will help students learn better and faster, but to also have the ability to know how to use and implement the gadget within the classroom is an essential skill of a 21st century educator. An effective educator will have the know-how and the wherewithal of how to efficiently implement and incorporate technology into the classroom in a way that will be productive for all students.

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By Jean-Baptiste Michel , Yuan Kui Shen , Aviva Presser Aiden , Adrian Veres , Matthew K. Gray , The Google Books Team , Joseph P. Pickett , Dale Hoiberg , Dan Clancy , Peter Norvig , Jon Orwant , Steven Pinker , Martin A. Nowak , Erez Lieberman Aiden

Science 14 Jan 2011 : 176-182

Linguistic and cultural changes are revealed through the analyses of words appearing in books.

Arts & Humanities

The arts and humanities take the history of creative human thought and expression and apply it to understanding and contextualizing events, ideas, policies, and human relationships. They foster an appreciation for other ideas, eras, and cultures, as well as the development of new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. The Arts & Humanities major helps you become a better thinker, leader, innovator, and informed global citizen with a social conscience and the ability to implement your ideas through persuasive communication in different media and formats.

As an Arts & Humanities major, you are required to take the courses that provide a foundation the Arts & Humanities concentrations, as well as electives from courses offered in other majors. In addition, you will complete additional elective courses, senior Tutorials, the Capstone courses, as well as the Manifest term.

Arts & Humanities Concentrations

Understand the impact of historical forces by acquiring the analytical tools of historians to solve the challenges posed by a wide range of historical problems and contemporary issues. Learn about comparative methods to analyze the effects of various forces on different societies. Explore how to use history as an instrument for informing public debates on contemporary issues.

Approach the arts, literature, history, ethics, law, and philosophy from an analytical perspective. Learn how to interpret the arts and literature deeply, using careful observation and appropriate theoretical approaches. Apply the methodological tools of the historian to interpret the past as well as the present. Examine the theoretical frameworks of ethical systems to understand their relationship to legal systems and contested moral issues.

Delve into the origins of moral beliefs, the relationship of ethics, and law, and study the relevance of all three to decision-making. Learn about the theoretical frameworks you can bring to bear when addressing moral issues and investigate how ethical and philosophical analysis may be used to change political and social institutions for the better.

Examine the humanities by putting them into their social, cultural, political, and economic contexts. Investigate the divergent responses of different societies to the challenges they face. Understand the evolution of the arts and literature around the world, within their socio-economic, political, and cultural frameworks. Understand how and why our notions of ethical and legal systems, as well as their applications, have changed in response to new ideas about the role of individuals and institutions in society.

Acquire a variety of analytical tools to interpret works of art and literature. Explore how the arts and literature interact with the larger society around them, how they are influenced by economic, political, and social forces, and how, in turn, the arts and literature can be used to communicate effectively and persuade others to bring about change.

Explore the uses of history, ethics, the arts, and literature to understand the past, influence the present, anticipate new developments, and persuade cultural, social, political, and economic actors and institutions to modify their plans for the future.

Qualitative management accounting research: Assessing deliverables and relevance

This paper examines the positioning of qualitative research to date in the field of management accounting. It offers a critical reflection and an appraisal of its profile relative to the dominant positivist quantitative accounting research literature. In the accounting literature, management accounting research is arguably a leader in applying qualitative research methodologies. Drawing on both the management accounting and qualitative research methodology literatures, the paper critically evaluates key features of the qualitative tradition and the future trajectory of the qualitative contribution to management accounting research. The qualitative tradition emerges as contributing to the understanding and critiquing of management and accounting processes, as well as having the ability to address the concerns of practitioners and policymakers. Close researcher engagement with the field, a concern with process, embracing situational complexity, as well as critical and reflective understandings of organisational phenomena remain as hallmarks of the tradition.

The making of history teaching in 20th-century British higher education

In 2000, the History Benchmark Statement on undergraduate standards laid out for the first time the expectations for all British single-honours degree programmes in the subject. The result of extensive consultation with historians across the sector, it constituted a statement not only of requirements but of ideals a declaration of 'a deeply held view of how history trains the mind'.(1)

This article examines the history of undergraduate history teaching in British higher education and how this was framed by what, by the end of the century, had become regarded as 'the traditional standpoint of historians'.(2) It describes developments in relation to the values, beliefs and practices that constituted and expressed a normative, if often implicit, pedagogic discourse regulating what was considered legitimate, desirable and valued in the discipline.

Of course teaching and learning cannot be divorced from broader trends in the discipline, state policy in regard to higher education, or wider forces in British society. While there is insufficient space here to examine these in any detail, the process of academic professionalisation, trends in research, changing government attitudes to higher education, and the influence of the media on the popularity of history all played an important part in the trajectory of history teaching and learning in this period.

It is also important to acknowledge that history teaching in higher education has always contained multiple voices. It has been influenced not only by the heterogeneity of the subject matter (for example in relation to differences in the study of modern and medieval history), but also by variables including type of institution, age and seniority, gender, nationality, race, social class, and moral and political conviction. There is no one pedagogic 'story', though there have always been dominant narratives about what it means to be educated as a historian.

Consensus and the cultivation of public servants: developments to the 1950s

History was established as an independent honours degree subject in Oxford and Cambridge in 1872 and 1873 respectively. In these, the dominant universities in the sector, a history education served primarily as a mental and moral training for a social elite expected to take up prominent roles in church, state and empire.

As Soffer notes, 'historians believed that in their teaching and writing they were continuing a tradition which, by cultivating character and mental abilities, led to a discovery of truth proven by historical events'. Until the Second World War at least, this constituted a training for intelligent citizenship, a non-specialised, liberal education cultivating patriotic and moral sentiments and habits of judgement &ndash 'states of mind far more than organizations of knowledge'.(3)

Whilst the Oxford and Cambridge syllabi differed in emphasis, they both had continuous constitutional history at their heart, although from the early decades of the century economic history gained ground especially at Cambridge. If the Cambridge tripos possessed a more European and theoretical emphasis than that at Oxford, and gave greater weight to quickness of mind, both placed importance upon explaining 'progress' in English government, society and empire. In a college system geared to success in competitive examinations, ideals of independent thinking often gave way in the practice of teaching and learning to efforts to transmit and acquire knowledge of an 'objective' past through the study of a limited number of texts.

For the growing body of professional historians in the early 20th century, an emphasis upon research and scholarship was gaining ground. If the process of academic professionalisation was slower in Britain than in France, Germany or the United States, by this time there already existed a strong sense of disciplinary identity and a fast-growing body of professional journals and subject associations which aided communication between scholars. Of these the most significant were the English Historical Review, established in 1886, the Royal Historical Society, founded in 1868 but increasingly professionalised from the late 1890s, and the Historical Association, formed in 1906 to link all those involved in teaching history.(4)

In the inter-war period, as the process of professionalisation took firmer hold so tensions between teaching and research, and between the needs of the discipline and those of 'modern' society, became more apparent. These issues were felt perhaps most acutely at Cambridge, where research received greater emphasis than at Oxford. In his Cambridge inaugural lecture in 1927, G. M. Trevelyan warned that whilst research was vital to the discipline, 'it seems to me not impossible that he [the academic historian was always 'he'] may sometimes give proportionately too much of his time and mental energy to research itself, at the expense of the thought and art that should be devoted to making use of the results of research' for the 'intellectual pleasure' and 'wisdom' of students and the wider public.(5)

A decade later, a report from the National Union of Students entitled 'University life and teaching in relation to the needs of modern society' echoed this concern. It noted that 'the criterion of research ability was unduly stressed in large numbers of [academic] appointments with a consequent deterioration in the standard of teaching'.(6) Yet if research was becoming more important in the academic career, even by the end of this period a PhD was still not generally regarded as an essential prerequisite for obtaining a university lectureship in history.(7) It was to be the creation of the new universities of the 1960s that finally enshrined the PhD as the universal badge of admission to the profession, though even in the 1970s it was still not compulsory to have completed it upon appointment.

If there was a good deal of consensus about the nature of a history education, this is not to say that new thinking was absent in regard to classroom practice. At Manchester, the first of the 'civic' universities, which received its full university charter in 1880, the 'seminar method' of teaching was pioneered by T. F. Tout in the first decade of the century. Tout argued for more active forms of learning in which students in groups of up to a dozen were to be directed by an active researcher and encouraged to write a dissertation. It was a conception of history learning as training in historical method that presaged later developments both in undergraduate projects and in active, independent learning more generally.(8)

In general, however, practice in history teaching and learning was conservative and grounded in an appeal to tradition as the source of authority. If there were some differences in opinion about how far it should offer a 'liberal arts' or a 'professional' training, there was general agreement that from studying history undergraduates should learn the 'humane' qualities required for intelligent citizenship. 'What was missing', as Soffer points out, 'was an emphasis upon critical thinking, and a salutary sense of irony as preliminary to judgment'.(9)

Curricular expansion and the training of practising historians: 1950s to later 1970s

In the decades following the Second World War the profession grew larger, academic historians' interests diversified and the process of research specialisation accelerated. By this time arguments for the value of history as a moral force or for its importance in contemporary problem-solving had lost their dominance. Pedagogic thinking and practice reflected these shifts, and the post-war decades saw the construction of a pedagogic discourse centred upon the specialist training of undergraduate historians in critical thinking, awareness of the complexity of events, and a rigorous and sceptical approach to evidence.

These were decades of expansion. By the late 1970s there were 47 universities in the United Kingdom, 41 of which offered a single honours degree in history. This included the 'new', or 'plate-glass', universities created in the expansion of the 1960s (Kent, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia, Stirling, Lancaster, York and Warwick), and the Open University which took in its first students in 1971. In the 1960s student numbers in higher education doubled. History was also taught in the polytechnics, created in the late 1960s, and in colleges of higher education, often as part of multi-disciplinary courses. By the late 1970s, it has been estimated, at least a quarter of all academic historians were teaching outside the universities.(10)

By this time history occupied a firmly established place in British higher education. This did not mean, however, that it avoided anxieties about its role. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the rise of the social sciences seemed to promise a 'relevance' to the problems of modern society that history could no longer easily claim. Yet by the early 1980s commentators on the subject were struck by its practitioners' sense of professional pride and identity. As one put it: 'history is part of the high culture of British higher education, that is, it is thought to be worthy of study for its own sake it has always attracted able students and generated respected scholarship'.(11)

This reflects prevailing notions of the discipline as autonomous, self-contained, internally generative, rigorous and scholarly which powerfully influenced pedagogic thinking. Whilst history education was still a 'training of the mind', this acquired a more specialist emphasis in which the training of practising historians became the primary focus. Students should be 'immersed' in the subject through a process of increasing specialisation in which an emphasis upon method and historiography was a feature, although 'there was little to suggest that philosophical (or methodological) questions related to history were being taken particularly seriously'.(12)

For the majority of historians, the skills developed in the study of history, whilst they might serve a variety of ends, were viewed as essentially of value in themselves or, more specifically, as part of a professional subject training. Little effort was made to explain the aims and underlying rationale of history courses, or to engage with issues of public utility. History, as Mandler notes, 'stood studiously aloof from vocationalism, or indeed any self-promotion that might smack of salesmanship'.(13) For critics, however, this represented a dangerous introversion and elitism, not least at a time when media developments were beginning to make history popular as a 'leisure interest' among the wider public and when students were beginning to demand greater 'relevance' to contemporary society.(14)

This was a period of vitality in historical research, and the expansion of research and publication was reflected particularly in the structure and content of the history curriculum. The rise of social history and demands for greater student choice in the 1960s led to an end of the domination of political history in the curriculum and the breaking down of notions of a core curriculum. There was a rapid growth of 'options', often in thematic topics such as the history of elites, crime and protest, urban history, and women's history. These frequently imported theories from the social sciences, notably sociology, although such theories rarely found their way in any depth into teaching methods. History teaching, like writing, remained in practice strongly empirical.

The curriculum nonetheless broadened, particularly in the plate-glass universities, to include the history of Africa and Latin America, with some institutions, like Sussex and East Anglia, introducing interdisciplinary 'area studies', and others contemporary history. In the polytechnics, inter- and multi-disciplinary programmes including history grew strongly from the early 1970s, for example in areas such as media studies, literature and history, and politics and history. The history curriculum became more varied in terms of themes and approaches than ever before, although outside Oxbridge and the older 'civic' universities, medieval history was often little more than a marginal presence. Whilst it thrived in the 1960s, by the late 1970s economic history was also declining in popularity among students, partly as a result of the rise of social history and the increasingly sophisticated mathematical and theoretical skills required to master fashionable 'quantitative' history or 'Cliometrics'. It was a decline that was to accelerate markedly in the following two decades.(15)

The innovations in the 1960s and 70s did not go uncontested, drawing the ire of those who bemoaned the 'fragmentation' and 'loss of coherence' of the history curriculum and feared for its distinctiveness as a subject. In his Cambridge inaugural lecture in 1984, G. R. Elton lamented the 'decline of history' as a subject of study for 'our public servants' in a more specialised curriculum, and the loss of curricular 'cohesion' amidst a rash of thematic and chronologically short 'options'. The 'present predilection for social and intellectual history', he argued, segmented history, whilst the study of 'options' militated against understanding of the 'long span'.(16)

Yet if the curriculum experienced an expansion that reflected research trends, teaching and assessment methods remained for the most part traditional. Lectures continued to be the principal mode of delivery, though mixed increasingly with seminar discussion, and assessment remained focused upon three-hour examinations, with, by the 1970s, a smattering of coursework assessment factored into summative evaluation. Training in teaching was generally resisted as otiose, an affront to craft-based expertise, a view that remained strong in the following decades when burgeoning institutional 'staff training and development' initiatives were widely criticised as instrumentalist, lacking sensitivity to disciplinary difference, and without intellectual substance.(17)

This is not to say that innovation in teaching methods was absent. A minority of more adventurous history teachers was involved in classroom innovation, often in relation to seminars or the undergraduate 'project' or dissertation which was becoming more common by the 1970s following the Manchester model. There were particular developments in 'workshop' methods in which teachers and students were more actively engaged as partners in enquiry, and the Open University pioneered the use of resource-based, distance learning methods. These historians placed an emphasis upon 'learning' as well as subject training that provides a direct connection, and one insufficiently acknowledged, to the pedagogic innovators of the last two decades of the century.

In an increasingly specialised profession, the tensions between research and teaching already apparent in the inter-war period continued to grow. The dominance of research over teaching became entrenched, and the conviction that high-quality research was directly linked to excellence in teaching became more marked in public discourse. This in turn reinforced the conception of teaching as a craft activity, expertise in which was to be accrued through practical experience rather than by scholarly investigation or systematic reflection.

In the early 1970s Gordon Connell-Smith and Howell Lloyd issued a powerful broadside against this view. They pointed out the 'wilful self-delusion' of academic historians, and reminded the profession that the specialised pursuit of knowledge for its own sake was divorcing the study of the past from the contemporary world. Academic historians, they pointed out, were both scholars and 'Although professional historians regard themselves not as educators but as scholars', they wrote, 'they owe their existence in their present numbers mainly to the fact that history is widely taught throughout our educational system'.(18)

As the years of expansion in higher education ground to a halt in the economic crises of the mid and late 1970s this warning remained largely unheeded. Issues of purposes and values in pedagogic practice were, however, soon to move centre-stage.

Diversity, innovation and the challenge of the market: the 1980s and 1990s

The final decades of the century saw both a crisis of confidence within the discipline and the creation of conditions in which new pedagogic thinking and practice could emerge more strongly. In particular, the dominant pedagogic discourse which embodied notions of self-regulation, tutor autonomy and academic specialisation came under challenge from a number of directions.

In part this challenge came from an increasingly interventionist government. The initial significant blows were felt in reductions in university funding as part of the first Thatcher government's efforts to control public expenditure following the economic downturn of the mid 1970s. The 1980s was a decade of retrenchment and anxiety for British higher education. Academic historians were faced with reductions in the unit of resource, contraction in job opportunities, deteriorating staff-student ratios, and worsening library resources. There were also mounting concerns about the future recruitment of students, amidst signs in the first half of the decade that the subject was declining in popularity in secondary schools.(19)

Whilst fears for student recruitment eased in the later 1980s, anxiety among academic historians did not. Rather it was augmented by an under-funded expansion in student numbers, as the number of full-time equivalent undergraduates rose by 57 per cent between 1988 and 1992, and, in effect, British higher education became a 'mass' system. In the 1990s government policy therefore focused upon ensuring the 'quality' of higher education for an increasingly large and diverse student population. The challenges facing history teachers escalated, as did complaints about rising class sizes, ill-prepared and instrumental students, and, following the widespread modularisation of the curriculum in the mid 1990s, the fragmentation of the learning experience and a growing consumer ethos amongst students.

If this was a contest of wills, it was also one of contrasting discourses. The 'traditional standpoint of historians' was confronted by a new policy discourse in higher education one that was market-directed, output-oriented and customer-focused. The language of 'value for money', 'efficiency' and 'innovation' sat uneasily with a dominant disciplinary discourse whose emphasis upon process, tutor autonomy, subject learning and the authority of precedent was portrayed as amateur, introverted and irrelevant to the needs of contemporary society and an economy facing increasing global competition.

For some history teachers, however, especially in the former polytechnics (which were awarded university status in 1992), the government 'enterprise' agenda opened up new possibilities. Whilst remaining sceptical of government motives in its increasing focus upon 'transferable skills' development, they took advantage of increased government funding for teaching 'employability' skills to foster innovation in the teaching of the subject and promote a more outward-facing vision of a history education capable of addressing what they saw as the needs of a new student population. These historians advocated a more learning-focused pedagogy, and in this they were joined by others already challenging traditional thinking about the nature and purpose of the practice of history more generally.

Intellectual currents in the discipline were prompting a similar re-thinking of historical epistemologies and methodologies. In the wake of a collapse of large-scale narratives of growth and progress (for example about modernisation or class), historians began to focus more on meaning, identity and relationship than on causation, upon understanding a world undercut in complex ways by factors such as gender, ethnicity and religion rather than explaining its origins. The rise of 'cultural' history prompted new areas of research but also greater theoretical engagement with other disciplines, such as anthropology, politics and linguistics, and a more fundamental questioning of traditional practice in the subject than ever before.(20)

The influence of this could be seen in the further broadening of the history curriculum, although medieval history suffered anxieties about its place in that curriculum amidst the growing popularity of modern history. There were a growing number of modules in world and, especially, contemporary history, and the emergence of reinvigorated approaches to the teaching of political and religious history. The interest in cultural history, alongside a growing public fascination with 'the past', also prompted a closer engagement with 'popular' history, such as oral history and public history, and with new areas such as 'heritage' studies.

Cultural historians also brought to bear their theoretical perspectives in the history classroom, advocating more 'reflexive' and 'self-reflexive' approaches to teaching and learning, emphasising personal experience and self-discovery, and encouraging students to 'read' history education in terms of social and political emancipatory agendas. (21) Indeed, if the 1960s and 70s saw exciting developments in the history curriculum, the last two decades of the century witnessed notable advances in teaching and assessment methods.

From the early 1980s, 'computer-assisted learning' developed from spreadsheet and database use to the 'enriched' tutorials of the mid 1990s, and, by the end of the decade, the use of the internet and other new technologies in history teaching. If the take-up of new technology was generally slow, student-led activities became increasingly evident in the history classroom. Collaborative group projects, role play, student-managed seminars, and a host of other 'active' and 'reflective' approaches to teaching and learning gained momentum and, by the end of the millennium, had begun to enter mainstream practice and discourse. These developments were accompanied by assessment practices that now included self, peer, group and oral assessment, online formative assessment and reflective portfolio work.(22)

Whilst history teaching was more vital than ever, the imbalance between teaching and research also became more marked. The introduction of a national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 1986 to assess the quality of research at a national level (initially low-key but followed by more rigorous and comprehensive exercises in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2001), imposed greater imperatives upon academics to publish than ever before. If many professional historians continued to attempt to research and teach with equal vigour, as surveys suggested they did, institutional prioritisation of research in systems of reward and recognition conveyed a clear message that research was more important than teaching in the academic career.

Despite countervailing efforts in the 1990s to reward teaching through government-funded prizes and substantial grants for developing teaching, and a move to inspect teaching quality through Teaching Quality Assessment Exercises (TQA), the RAE underlined and reinforced the triumph of research over teaching in 20th-century British higher education. And notwithstanding more recent efforts by institutional senior managers to recognise and reward teaching excellence through promotion to the highest levels, cultural attitudes have been slow to change. In the face of subject audits of teaching quality in the 1990s and the first years of the new millennium, historians, like academics in many other disciplines, were quick to assert a direct relationship between quality in research and teaching quality, although the 'self-evaluation' documents submitted for these exercises reveal how thinly conceptualised this relationship often was in practice.

Postscript: history teaching present and future

This article has briefly described the history of history teaching in 20th-century British higher education. It has attempted to recount some of the changes that have occurred in pedagogic thinking and practice, and how these relate to trends in the discipline and to broader sociocultural forces. It has sketched a picture of adaptation, negotiation, contestation and innovation, within a dominant discourse that, for much of this period at least, was shaped by the discipline on its own terms. I am all too conscious, however, that it represents only a partial picture, and that such an account might, for example, look quite different if written from a student perspective.

'There is little consensus today', Jordanova observed in an account of disciplinary practice published in 2000, 'about how to teach history at university level'.(23) Curriculum content, teaching methods, assessment practices and learning resources are increasingly diverse, and notions of what constitutes 'good' and 'acceptable' practice have become blurred as they have in the practice of history more generally. Whilst some may regard this as indicating 'crisis', 'decline' or 'fragmentation', for others it demonstrates a creativity that provides a foundation for the future development of history teaching in a mass system of higher education.

Responses to this complex world are understandably mixed. One reaction is to take refuge in pointing out the problems in despairing or cynical terms, another to try to regain control by reasserting familiar truths with greater conviction. However, it might be better to embrace and value this diversity and the complexity that comes with it, recognise that it reflects wider changes in the sector and in society, and use it to foster new solutions that can engage new student populations in historical study, promote depth of understanding, and cultivate a love of the subject as well as a (historically informed) sense of active citizenship.

This is a substantial challenge, and requires an agenda that recognises changed circumstances and the need to cultivate the capacity to respond to these positively. All agendas are inevitably personal in the sense that historians, however rigorous, approach their subject carrying, whether consciously or unconsciously, their own histories, their personal preferences, and their hopes and fears for the future. At the top of my own is a conviction that we must build actively upon the advances in inquiry, innovation and understanding made in recent decades, and nurture pedagogic creativity and investigation in the discipline with a conviction and commitment commensurate with that afforded to research.

High-quality teaching and learning deserve a prominent place in the professional culture of the discipline. They are essential to the vitality of the subject and its long-term survival: to the intellectual and personal development of staff and students, to the dissemination of research findings to a wider public, to the whole reproduction of the discipline. If we fully acknowledge this, and embody it in our professional practice, not only will the discipline thrive as a subject in higher education but academic historians will be better equipped to persuade a more demanding student body, and an increasingly sceptical public, that the study of the past truly matters.

  1. A. Fletcher, 'The making of a history graduate', The Independent, 14 Jan. 1999, Education Section, p. 4. See Quality Assurance Agency, Subject Benchmark Statement: History (Gloucester, 2000).
  2. History at the Universities Defence Group, Submission to the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (London, 1997).
  3. R. Soffer, Discipline and Power: the University, History and the Making of an English Elite, 1870&ndash1930 (Stanford, 1994), pp. 5, 22.
  4. See J. Kenyon, The History Men (London, 1983), ch. 5 D. Goldstein, 'The organisational development of the British historical profession, 1884&ndash1921', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 60 (1982), 180&ndash93 Making History: an Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline, P. Lambert and P. Schofield (London, 2004), ch. 1.
  5. In G. M. Trevelyan, Clio, A Muse and other Essays (London, 1941), p. 194.
  6. National Union of Students, The Challenge of the University: a Report of the 1938 Congress of the National Union of Students of the NUS of England and Wales on University Life and Teaching in Relation to the Needs of Modern Society (London, 1938), p. 32.
  7. See J. F. C. Harrison, Scholarship Boy: a Personal History of the Mid-Twentieth Century (London, 1995).
  8. See P. Slee, Learning and Liberal Education: the Study of Modern History in the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester 1850&ndash1914 (Manchester, 1986).
  9. Soffer, p. 209.
  10. A. Cowan, 'History in the UK public sector', in The History Teacher, 22 (1989), 277&ndash92.
  11. M. Kogan, 'History', in Higher Education and the Preparation for Work, ed. C. Boys and others (London, 1989), p. 21.
  12. A. Briggs, 'History after school', in History Teaching and Historical Understanding, ed. A. Dickinson and P. Lee (London, 1978), p. 157.
  13. P. Mandler, History and National Life (London, 2002), p. 132.
  14. For example, J. Cannon, 'Teaching history at university', The History Teacher, 22 (1989), 245&ndash75.
  15. See D. C. Coleman, History and the Economic Past: an Account of the Rise and Decline of Economic History (Oxford, 1987).
  16. G. R. Elton, 'The History of England', Inaugural Lecture, University of Cambridge, 26 Jan. 1984, pp. 9&ndash10, 22, 27&ndash8.
  17. Cannon, pp. 255&ndash6 also C. Church, 'Constraints on the historian', Studies in Higher Education, 3 (1978), 127&ndash38.
  18. G. Connell-Smith and H. Lloyd, The Relevance of History (London, 1972), p. 123.
  19. See D. Stevenson, 'The end of history? The British university experience 1981&ndash1992', Contemporary Record, 7 (1993), 66&ndash85 E. Evans, 'History at 16&ndash18', The Historian, 15 (1987), 13.
  20. What is History Now?, D. Cannadine (London, 2002) S. Gunn, History and Cultural Theory (London, 2006).
  21. For examples, see articles in History in Higher Education: New Directions in Teaching and Learning, A. Booth and P. Hyland (London, 1996).
  22. See examples in The Practice of University History Teaching, A. Booth and P. Hyland (Manchester, 2000).
  23. L. Jordanova, History in Practice (London, 2000), p. 194.

Alan Booth is Reader in History at the University of Nottingham. He has written widely on the teaching and learning of history in higher education and been actively involved in national and international initiatives to develop teaching in the discipline. His most recent book in this area is Teaching History at University: Enhancing Learning and Understanding (London, 2003).


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      (a). Introduction to Geography

      Spatial Tradition - the investigation of the phenomena of geography from a strictly spatial perspective.

      Area Studies Tradition - the geographical study of an area on the Earth at either the local, regional, or global scale.

      Human-Land Tradition - the geographical study of human interactions with the environment.

      Earth Science Tradition - the study of natural phenomena from a spatial perspective. This tradition is best described as theoretical physical geography.

      Today, the academic traditions described by Pattison are still dominant fields of geographical investigation. However, the frequency and magnitude of human mediated environmental problems has been on a steady increase since the publication of this notion. These increases are the result of a growing human population and the consequent increase in the consumption of natural resources. As a result, an increasing number of researchers in geography are studying how humans modify the environment. A significant number of these projects also develop strategies to reduce the negative impact of human activities on nature. Some of the dominant themes in these studies include: environmental degradation of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere resource use issues natural hazards environmental impact assessment and the effect of urbanization and land-use change on natural environments.

      Considering all of the statements presented concerning the history and development of geography, we are now ready to formulate a somewhat coherent definition. This definition suggests that geography, in its simplest form, is the field of knowledge that is concerned with how phenomena are spatially organized. Physical geography attempts to determine why natural phenomena have particular spatial patterns and orientation. This online textbook will focus primarily on the Earth Science Tradition . Some of the information that is covered in this textbook also deals with the alterations of the environment because of human interaction. These pieces of information belong in the Human-Land Tradition of geography.

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