Professional practice and perspectives in the teaching of historical empathy
To empathise, in a historical sense, generally means to entertain the perspectives and values of people in the past through consideration of the circumstances they faced. Widely acknowledged as a fundamental part of the historian's craft, empathy has had a more tenuous place in school history due to the conceptual confusion of the term, its association with the promotion of a leftist political agenda, and its difficulty for pupils. Scholarship on empathy has focused upon its philosophical meaning and students' thought processes, but has largely neglected to explore teachers' knowledge and practice about how to cultivate it. Instead, it has tended to offer norms for good practice that take little account of differing contexts or the sometimes competing goals that teachers seek to achieve. It has been guided as well by a particular image of empathy teaching as dedicated exercises, often involving immersion in many historical sources. My study begins to address the lack of attention to teachers' actual ideas and practices for fostering empathy by presenting a case study of four experienced history educators in England. Through extensive analysis of lesson and interview transcripts, I derive a new framework for thinking about empathy teaching that takes into account both the major activities and smallscale discourse strategies - heretofore largely unexamined - that the teachers use to promote understanding. It attends to their ways of conceptualising empathy, their means of establishing the conditions they view as essential, their negotiations of myriad factors helping or hindering their efforts, and their complex deployments of various types of relevant knowledge. The framework shows how, in making decisions about empathy teaching, they consider student factors such as capacities, preconceptions and motivation, structural factors such as time, resources, and examination priorities, and factors concerning their own knowledge, beliefs and state - then utilise a broad and flexible repertoire of strategies to address the shifting variables they encounter. Finally, the study explores curriculum as an interaction between teachers, pupils and educational context, recognising the influence of each on understanding in particular classrooms. Significant divergences between how teachers think and practice and how empathy teaching is discussed in the educational literature emerge for a spectrum of issues. These include how empathy is conceptualised, what sorts of strategies are enacted, who the historical subjects of empathetic efforts are, how students' achievements are assessed, and how empathy-related dilemmas are construed and managed. All of these discrepancies suggest that research stands to benefit by attending more closely to teachers' ideas. For their part, the teachers appear to be oriented toward self-improvement - learning and changing through experience, collegial contact, and focused reflection of the sort prompted by this research. Implications for teachers' professional development and for future research approaches are explored.