Exploring social justice, democracy, human rights and citizenship: Engaging tertiary students through an open history textbook initiative

Year: 2021

Author: Baguley, Margaret

Type of paper: Pre-Recorded Individual Paper

The research project explores how an open history textbook initiative at a major regional university has sought to democratize learning by ensuring that institutions, educators, and students have equitable access to appropriate classroom resources.  The textbook focused on inculcating in students a greater appreciation of history as a local, national and international phenomenon and the contribution it makes to an evolving understanding of Australian citizenship. Recent events such as the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement have emphasized the extent to which history is a contested space. The rise of social media as a source of ‘authoritative’ news has further contributed to distorted views of historical and current events. This has problematised the ongoing discussions concerning Indigenous rights, refugees, and Australia’s ongoing engagement with Asia. The aim of the project is to examine how commemorative memorials and monuments are an expression of culture, national identity, and ideology. They are inherently political and have often been a powerful disseminator of an officially sanctioned version of history. The increasing number of counter monuments evident since the 1980s offers a challenge to hegemonic constructs of history.   Nevertheless, the proliferation of monuments has not led to a commensurate use of them as educational resources, even when distance from metropolitan centres and financial pressures limit pedagogical options outside of the classroom. The research team are exploring the smaller local memorials and monuments that provide a rich storehouse of accessible and relevant resources and highlighting the connection between local, national and international events. In addition to creating materials supporting classroom instruction, the research team explored the private home as an informal site of commemoration by interviewing community members about historical memorabilia related to family members. A qualitative and constructivist research design has been used which has drawn data from artefact- elicited interviews, surveys, course discussion boards and student contributions to the open history textbook. The findings have shown that students assumed the role of historians rather than passive consumers of dominant ideologies. In addition, there was a greater sense of ownership and engagement with history as an organic entity and understanding of the range of perspectives and factors that impact on how it is recorded. The implications from this project are the significance of valuing local stories and understanding their significance in shaping contemporary Australia.