History as alchemy and other promises: The place of historical research in, for, and of education.

Year: 2012

Author: McLeod, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Moving from the well-documented declarations of despair at the decline in the study of history of education, this paper looks to historiographical debates in and outside of education that offer some fruitful ways for rethinking the place and purpose of historical inquiry in, for and of education. Prompted by research for a new project on the history of youth identity and educational change since the 1950s, the paper examines impasses in how history is imagined to be 'of use' and the kind of transformations that 'adding history' seems to promise for understanding educational change and education in the present.


In teacher education programs, for example, this can take the form of understanding context, with vague references to the past, accompanied by noting how things have changed - either for the better or worse. History - as a signifier, a topic, a perspective - is often simply called upon to register change processes; the past is invoked principally as a general point of implicit comparison with the present, or as holding the seeds of an immanent and unfolding present.  Understanding this dilemma requires attention to many factors, including historiographical debates within the discipline of history, changing conceptions of history in social imaginaries and political rhetoric, and the turn away from foundation disciplines within teacher education.


In responses to such matters, and to indicate other possibilities for historical research in education, this paper explores Somer's (2008) Foucauldian approach to the historical sociology of concept formation, as well as debates about  'disrupted temporalities', including Harootunian's (2007) discussions of a 'thickened present', one 'filled with traces of different moments and temporalities, weighted with sediments'. These approaches are examined with reference to a historical study of Australian adolescence and education for citizenship, in parallel with a history of the epistemic regimes of youth studies itself.