The one-day symposium, “Coming of Age: Life/Time/History,” included eight senior, international scholars who had been particularly influential in Peter’s career and five younger scholars who had worked with him as graduate students. For more information, click here.


The Historical Thinking Project is currently the major focus for the Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness, with major funding contributions from the Department of Canadian Heritage, THEN/HiER, and Canadians and Their Pasts.

For more information, see

Summer Seminar 2006

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CanPastCanadians and Their Pasts

Funded by the Community-University Research Alliance grant program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 2006-2011

Project summary

Canadians and Their Pasts website

THEN The History Education Network /
Histoire et Éducation en Réseau

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Cluster Grants Program.

THEN/HiER is the first pan-Canadian organization devoted to promoting—and improving—history teaching and learning by bringing together the multiple and varied constituencies involved in history education: academic historians; public historians in museums, archives and historic sites; practicing teachers; researchers based in faculties of education; and curriculum policy makers. Its goal is to create more research-informed practice (from kindergarten to graduate school) and more practice-informed research through dialogue among these various communities. Many of CSHC’s objectives are closely aligned with those of THEN/HiER.

For more information, see

THEN/HiER participants, 2006

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Assessing Historical Thinking: Challenges and Possibilities

Peter Seixas, Kadriye Ercikan, Lindsay Gibson, and Juliette Lyons-Thomas

The construction of valid assessments of historical thinking, usable at the classroom level yet meaningful beyond it, poses multiple challenges.  This study maps early steps in constructing and validating assessment tasks designed to measure students’ historical thinking.

Two major challenges are immediately apparent. The first concerns the relationship between “content knowledge” (or what we call knowledge of the historical context) and “cognition” (or historical thinking).  Students who know more about the particular historical context are bound to do better in thinking about problems related to and embedded in that context.  Yet the aim is to measure something more than the memorization of factual knowledge.  Secondly, while much of the performance on historical thinking tasks rests on a base of literacy competence, assessments must distinguish general reading proficiency from sophistication in historical thinking.  Traditional notions of “content” and “cognition” as defined, e.g., in NAEP and other assessment frameworks are inadequate for addressing these two challenges.

Our theoretical frameworks for assessment of historical thinking come from two directions.  In history education research, historical thinking has been defined in terms of “second-order”, “procedural”, or, simply “historical thinking” concepts (Lee & Ashby, 2000; Levesque, 2008; VanSledright & Limon, 2006).  In Canada, six clearly defined historical thinking concepts are ubiquitous in textbooks and curriculum documents published within the last two or three years (Peck & Seixas, 2008). In this study, we measure three of the six concepts, chosen for their conceptual proximity: using primary source evidence, taking historical perspectives, and handling the ethical dimension of history.  On the assessment side, our theoretical framework is shaped by evidence centered assessment design: a systematic approach to designing assessments that are closely aligned with a student learning and cognition model and claims about student competencies (Ercikan & Seixas, 2011; NRC, 2001). The NRC’s “assessment triangle,” initially framed as cognition, observation, and interpretation, provides the basis for our investigation.

Though the particular tasks are aimed at a specific chunk of the British Columbia curriculum, their analysis will contribute to an assessment model that can apply to other topics in other jurisdictions.  While the goal of historical thinking has become a staple of curriculum and teaching materials, to date, valid and reliable assessment instruments have not been adequate to support that goal, either at the classroom level or on a larger scale.  This research begins to address that problem.

Using the Past and Thinking Historically

Peter Seixas

Funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada , 2003-2007

Summary of Research:

For politicians, history is eminently usable in the promotion of collective identity and civic values. National unity, interracial harmony, and ethnic identity are only a few of the many, sometimes competing ends to which history can be harnessed. Academics immersed in the discipline of history have been much more cautious. Indeed, the quest for a past drafted into service of causes in the present has been seen as a real threat to the integrity of historical inquiry. There is always the possibility of tension between a useful history and a truthful history.

As we turn to school history, the tension is virtually inescapable: if history's place in the curriculum is to be justified, it must have some use in the present. Yet its very uses can corrupt its methods. School history is thus precariously poised between two approaches. On the one hand, it provides the greatest opportunity for young people to learn to think historically and practice "history's habits of mind"-e.g., the tangled interplay of continuity and change, the complexity of historical causation and the evidentiary basis of historical interpretation. On the other, school history is a vehicle eminently vulnerable to the kinds of shortcuts demanded by simpler and clearer "lessons from the past," often justified on the grounds that young people are not ready for a more challenging approach. How do young people actually navigate this dichotomy?

This research program aims to examine this tension as it is played out in the ideas and understanding of students near the end of their secondary school careers. Young people both make use of the past and entertain conceptions of history. Potential uses of the past include defining family, ethnic and national identities (e.g., through a sense of national origins and challenges overcome), assessing moral obligations in the present (e.g., reparations claims), and making personal and policy decisions for the future (e.g., how to vote or how to deal with problems of racism). Conceptions of history are both substantive, (e.g., the turning points in modern world history) and procedural (e.g., how to judge two conflicting historical accounts).

What is the nature of the links and disjunctions between these two domains? The answer has major implications for history curriculum. Are rich, legitimate and complex uses of the past dependent upon mastery of the difficult disciplinary tools of history? If so, then developing students' conceptions of history (including procedural concepts) must occupy a central place in school history.

This study explores how young people think about and use the past. Students from Grade 11 social studies classes in three different schools comprise a sample (n=155) with ranges of ethnic and socio-economic characteristics and academic abilities. The research involves analyses of multiple forms of data, including questionnaire answers, transcriptions of tape-recorded three-participant interviews, students' unstructured, written historical narratives, and their analysis of historical documents. These analyses provide a rich but often puzzling picture of students' historical thinking and their uses of the past, with implications for history curriculum, assessment, and professional development. Papers based on the project have been presented at the American Educational Research Association (2005 and 2006), the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (2005 and 2006), the CUNY Graduate Center (2006), the London Institute of Education (2004), and Writing National Histories Symposium, Cardiff , Wales (2004). Several are in preparation for publication. Carla Peck, Stuart Poyntz and Michael Cromer (to November, 2005) serve as research assistants.

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A comparative study of history education in Australia and Canada, examining the relationship between school history and broader historical debates

Tony Taylor

This project examines the status of school history and the relationship that exists between recent public and professional discussion of the nature of historical scholarship and history education. Australia will be principal and initial site of research, with Canada as a comparative, secondary research site. The project will fill a major gap in history education research in Australia and internationally and will also examine Commonwealth-state/territory relations in Australia and national-provincial relations in Canada in a novel way that allows a realistic appraisal of curriculum change by looking particularly at the differences between stated and enacted curriculum.

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