Meeting history for the first time: the Stolen Generations becoming significant for students

Year: 2021

Author: Harrison, Neil

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Historical significance continues to be the forgotten element of history education. Without the student capacity to establish what they think is important about the past, or why they would care about certain events and people from the past, students will continue to be disinterested in the study of history. This paper draws on the results of a three year study aimed at understanding how historical significance of the Stolen Generations is created for students. Rather than being disinterested in stories of the Stolen Generations, I argue that students are vitally invested in such narratives to the extent that they, on occasion, can’t bear to hear the story. While students acquire knowledge, they also resist and ignore it. Hence, I argue that neither reason or cognition are up to the task of resisting either the student’s drive to ignore or their assimilation of difference into the same. For history to be significant in the classroom for students, it must be understood as more than an epistemological pursuit. The findings highlight the critical point for creating significance in history education, namely that the difficulty of learning about the experiences of the Stolen Generations resides not in the historical content, but in the learner’s relationship with it. The world is configured through how we come to know. This study subsequently illuminates the nature and impact of the student’s relation to the Stolen Generations in Australia, and more particularly to themselves.