Social Studies Research and Practice
Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2008
Developing Historical Empathy through Debate: An Action Research Study
University of Mary Washington
Historical empathy, also referred to as perspective taking, is an important skill for students to learn. Students need to have historical empathy in order to understand the complexity of how historians explain past events. Historical empathy, defined by Downey (1995), is the ability to recognize how the past was different from the present, to distinguish between multiple perspectives from the past, to explain the author’s perspective, and to defend it with historical evidence. In this action research study, a teacher used historical debate to foster the development of perspective taking in her fifth-grade class. Through debate, students took on the perspectives of people from the past and gained a better understanding of past events. Debates increased students’ understanding of historical contexts and differences between different viewpoints in the past, both important aspects of perspective taking. Students, however, had trouble demonstrating that the past is different from the present.
About the Author(s)…
Jill Jensen is a third-grade teacher in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. She recently graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a Master of Science in Education with a specialization in Social Studies. Her research interests include debate, historical empathy, and constructivist teaching. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org