Thinking Aloud about History: Children's and Adolescents' Responses to Historical Photographs

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  • This article was downloaded by: [York University Libraries]On: 13 November 2014, At: 03:29Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Thinking Aloud about History: Children's andAdolescents' Responses to Historical PhotographsStuart J. Foster a , John D. Hoge a & Richard H. Rosch ba Department of Social Science Education , University of Georgia , Athens , 30602 , USAb Winder-Barrow High School , Winder , Georgia , USAPublished online: 12 Jul 2012.

    To cite this article: Stuart J. Foster , John D. Hoge & Richard H. Rosch (1999) Thinking Aloud about History: Children'sand Adolescents' Responses to Historical Photographs, Theory & Research in Social Education, 27:2, 179-214, DOI:10.1080/00933104.1999.10505878

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  • Theory and Reswrch in Social Education Spring 1999,Volume 27, Number 2, pp. 179-214 O College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies

    Thinking Aloud About History: Children's and Adolescents' Responses to Historical Photographs

    Stuart J. Foster John D. Hoge Richard H. Rosch University of Georgia

    Abstract This study explored third, sixth, and ninth grade students' interpretat ions of a mi- lecf ion of nine historical photographs using semi-stmctu red in tmims . Specifical ly, the study focused on students' replies ro three historical questions: When do you think this photograph was taken? Why do you think it w a s taken? and What does this photograph tell you about these peoples' lives? Resulfs showed fhaf fheability to date photographs progressed with age and withou f remarkable differences in reg~rd to gender or race. Similar results occurred in regard to studenfs' inferences about why a photograph was taken. Age and race related diflerences m e noted, however, in students abiEity to draw inferences about the lives of the people shown in the pho- tographs.

    On a daily basis students in history classrooms are bombarded with an array of visual images. In addition to traditional portrayals of photographs, paintings, cartoons, and artists' impressions commody found in textbooks and other instructional materials, the rapid devel- opment and increased classroom utilization of video discs, CD ROWS, and the Internet provide an ever increasing access to pictorial sources. Despite this dramatic trend toward increasingly rich visual sources, a scarcity of research exists which focuses on the xelationship between students' analysis of photographic images and the development of students' historical thinking. Simply put, educators know too little about how students of different ages understand and in t e rp~ t his- torical photographs. Moreover, with notable exceptions, Iittle atten- tion has been devoted to research which analyses the potential ben- efits of engaging students in the critical analysis and thoughtful ap- preciation of historical photographs.

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  • The increasing use of visual images in history classrooms offers educators a powerfuI vehicle from which to gain insight into the de- velopment of students' historical thinking. Photographs are one of the few media that prompt immediate response from children regard- less of age or ability. Unlike students' involvement with textual mate- rial that typically demands literal competency, requires concentrated focus on dense narrative, and often proves time consuming, photo- graphs offer refreshing accessibility and immediate engagement. Ripped out of context, a historical photograph stands isolated but whole. It invites students to give meaning to the image, to expIain its content, to understand its significance, and to reflect on the motives of its creator. Simultaneously, students are required to activate their prior historical knowledge and to use clues within the photograph to understand and interpret the image. Accordingly, thoughtful atten- tion to the way in which students process and explain information contained within photographs offers rich potential for meaningful study of the development of students%storical thinking. This research explores these possibilities.

    Research on Students' Historical Thin king

    For many generations the deveIopment of students' historical thinking escaped serious scrutiny by researchers in all fields (Wineburg, 1994). School history was considered a subject concerned more with the aggregation of historical information than with the growth of critical thinking or cognitive deveIopment. Over the past two decades, however, researchers have amassed a wealth of infor- mation on the learning and teaching of history. This explosion of re- search has focused on a wide range of topics related to history teach- ing such as studies on historical significance, empathy and perspec- tive taking, evaluation of source materials, historical interpretation, time and chronology, historical context and narrative, pedagogy in history, and socio-cultural infIuences on children% historical under- standing and belief (e-g., Barton, 1997; Barton & Levstik, 1996; Beck & McKeown, 1988; Booth, 1980,1993; Brophy & VanSIedright, 1997; Coo- per, 1992; Dickinson & Lee, 1978; Dickinson, Lee & Rogers, 1984; Downey, 1995; Downey & Levstik, 1991; Evans, 1994; Foster, Davis, & Morris, 2996; Foster & Yeager, in press; Gabella, 1994; Hoge, 1991; teinhardt, Beck & Stainton, 1994; Portal, 1987; Seixas, 1994; Shemilt, 1984; Thornton % Vukelich, 1988; VanSIedright & Brophy, 1992; Wineburg, 1991; Wineburg & Wilson, 1988; Yeager & Davis, 1995).

    Although some research expIicit1y has focused on the develop ment of historical thinking through pictorial images, these studies have proved scarce. For exampIe, Barton and Levstik's (1996) intriguing study of young children's ability to sequence historical photographs

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  • offered rare insights into students' understanding of chronology, con- ceptions of time, and use of temporal language. Similarly, Epstein's (1994) use of art to evaIuate how students i n t e rp~ t pictorial sources provided impressive but isolated examples of the power of visual im- ages to elicit informed understandings of student thought.

    In a similar fashion, a limited number of researchers in Britain have used historical photographs to investigate how students under- stand history. For example, John West (1981,1986) used historical pic- tures to engage young students in a variety of activities that required them to think and act like historians. West concluded that elementary school children were able to chronologically sequence photographs, to understand the concepts of evidence and authenticity, and to make reasonable historical inferences from the information contained in pic- tures. Blyth 11 988) built on West's findings. Her research revealed that when asked to study and discuss historical pictures, nine yeax old students were able to display understandings of abstract historical concepts such as change, power, and evidence. Moreover, Blyth dem- onstrated how students' ability to make plausible generalizations about life in the past progressed as students increasingly were exposed to picture analysis. Lynn (1993) hrther noted that although children aged six and seven often held misconceptions about the past and demon- strated that as they g ~ w older, students' understanding became in- creasing1 y sophisticated.

    Drawing on these studies and the work of Bruner (19661, who ar- ticulated the importance of three modes of learning (iconic, enactive, and symbolic), Penelope Harnett (in press] hrther i