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Title: The possibilities for comparing a syllabus topic in school history across cultures : a contribution to method in comparative inquiry in education
Author: Nicholls, Jason
ISNI:       0000 0001 3445 9125
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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In this doctoral thesis I develop a methodological system to facilitate the comparison of syllabus topics in history education across international contexts. The thesis brings together many years of work and while rooted in the philosophy of Hegel draws on the ideas and concepts of a wide plurality of thinkers. Essentially, the thesis is a 'synthesis', developing from my pre-doctoral experiences as an educator in the UK and overseas (thesis) and my critique of comparative textbook research (antithesis). In the doctorate, syllabus topics are understood to be composed of constellations of influencing variables or parts; the relationship between topic and variable conceived as reciprocally constituting and dialectical. Essentially, I argue that to compare curriculum knowledge the researcher need not necessarily compare 'things in themselves' - e.g. textbooks, examinations, official censorship guidelines etc., - but rather relationships and effects. Syllabus topics are thus understood as the expression of relationships with influencing variables. Only when variables and relationships have been identified and appropriately valued does it become possible to compare syllabus topics in a meaningful way. In this thesis I develop a concept of the researching subject that is neither totally centred nor totally de-centred. Modernism's centred subject assumes a research horizon that is both limitless and objective, while the de-centred postmodern subject denies the concept of horizons by championing only relative particularities and subjective experience. Identifying the hermeneutic element in the work of Hegel, Gadamer and Foucault I chart a location 'beyond' the oppositions. The subject is thus understood as an agent empowered to act, and perform critique, but within limits that are sensitive to cultural difference. The comparative researcher is thus conceived operating within a specified 'sphere of liberty'; the liberty to compare depending on the training, intercultural skills and first-hand experiences of the researcher. In this research the Second World War is utilised as an 'exemplar topic'. With the end of the Cold War the importance and significance of the war has receded in political terms. Nevertheless it remains as a popular subject in history classes around the world. Morally, the war continues to raise fundamental questions. But to understand the impact of the war as a syllabus topic in educational terms we must identify its form and content as an object. The syllabus topic as a whole is composed of a constellation of parts, influencing factors, push and pull variables. What is the 'power/knowledge' relationship between whole and parts in particular contexts? How does a particular syllabus topic express these relationships? It is argued that relationships between topic and parts must be identified if we are to begin to understand their effects in classroom settings.
Supervisor: Phillips, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Education ; Curricula ; History ; Study and teaching ; Textbooks ; Evaluation