history class

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History teaching or history refers to any form of institutionalized history teaching , especially as a subject in school .

In Austrian schools it is usually a combined subject of history and social studies or history, social studies and political education .

Organization and teacher training

As in most countries in German-speaking countries, history lessons are an independent school subject.

There are also other forms of organization: for example, history lessons can be integrated into a social science learning field together with geography (and social studies ) in one teacher's hand (e.g. as so-called world studies , community studies or social studies ). This is often the case at German secondary schools and comprehensive schools , but was in some cases also aimed at for all types of school, for example in Hesse in the 1970s. In such cases, the teachers may also teach without a specialist degree.

There can also be history lessons in freer forms as a working group in afternoon lessons, in project lessons , in the context of student competitions (e.g. the Körber Foundation ) or for exams as a special learning achievement . In these cases, the role of the teacher is reduced most to pure learning support.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands, history lessons are the main subject of the academic discipline of history didactics . In other countries there is only a pragmatic history methodology . The popular notion that it is the main task of history teaching, the current results of the science of history simply to convey to students ( " image didactics ") is of historical theory untenable as educational reasons. Nonetheless, history as a discipline remains an essential point of orientation for history didactics and history teaching.

Awareness of history as a goal

In democratic states with a pluralistic educational discussion , a long-term, albeit politically controversial, trend is discernible to move away from conveying an imposed view of history and to promote the competence of the learners for independent and critical historical thinking . In the German-speaking countries, it has made a major contribution to raising “ historical awareness ” to the central category of history didactics. At present, the PISA educational policy-based orientation of curricula on competencies reinforces this tendency, although the control with uniform teaching goals through educational standards sometimes has the opposite effect if the competencies are reduced to factual knowledge. So far there are no national educational standards in Germany.

The main goal of history lessons, to promote the historical awareness of the learners, should enable them to think independently historically even after the end of school without guidance, to develop and reflect on their own identity and at least tend to have equal rights in the social discussion and argument about History to attend.

There are also many other overarching goals of history teaching. These include education for democracy and human rights education . The critical history didactics of the 1970s and 1980s (e.g. Annette Kuhn ) set individual emancipation and societal critical ability as primary goals, but the one-sided cognitive orientation of this concept was corrected by showing further dimensions of historical awareness: emotional and aesthetic-instinctual interests as well Historical cultural factors influence the individual handling of history much more strongly. Most adults have e.g. For example, there is no critical relationship with medieval films like Braveheart , but rather unreflectedly enjoying them as entertainment.


In modern history lessons , several principles apply to the choice of subject, method and media as well as lesson planning . Some of them (even if they are often very general) are laid down in the curriculum, others only have the status of didactic requirements:

The history lesson in Germany arranges the subjects to be treated in the lower secondary level predominantly chronologically or roughly chronologically . In the upper secondary level, the approach is sometimes different according to subject matter. The chronological principle is established, but increasingly problematic and is also criticized for the lower classes, since it does not take sufficient account of the knowledge of the theory of history or the issues and findings of developmental psychology . The ancient historical problems are no simpler than the modern ones. Other forms of organization that are increasingly finding their way into curricula are orientation towards currently relevant problem complexes or the arrangement of topics in longitudinal sections . However, these also lead to major comprehension problems for the students.

Proximity to the state and political education

History class as a school subject is a state event. It is the responsibility of the state and is subject to state-set curricula or more open framework plans. Despite regular “clearing out”, the overcrowding of these plans is often criticized, some of which reflect the wishes of history-conscious adults rather than the realistic learning opportunities of adolescents. In addition, a history lesson is always in danger of a historical-political indoctrination to serve or exploitation. On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons for a culture or society to institutionalize history lessons and civic education, since many social institutions can only be made historically plausible for the next generation. A good example are the constitutional rules of the Federal German Basic Law , which in many cases can only be understood and recognized from a knowledge of German history in the 20th century.

History lessons as the most central instance of intentional and institutionalized influence of history and historical consciousness is always politically controversial. Precisely because of the possibility of indoctrination, he is rightly in the focus of public political debate (e.g. currently due to the lack of treatment of the GDR history) - both nationally and internationally (in France, e.g. currently because of the colonial history). The principles of the Beutelsbach Consensus developed in political didactics and political education are also to be regarded as valid in modified form for history lessons.

History of history teaching

Until well into the early modern period, history was taught by ancient historians, neither in schools nor at universities, as an independent subject, but as an explanation of Latin and Greek reading. It was not until the 18th century that learned schools began setting up their own lessons and writing textbooks. Early examples were the Torsellini in the 16th and the Petavius in the 17th century, very successful in the 18th century was Christoph Cellarius with historia universalis , by a eras of history disposition in ancient times - Middle Ages - Modern Times has become accessible. For the Enlightenment class , history lessons as secular world studies became increasingly more important than a Christian or denominational image of history that interpreted the history between the Fall and Redemption .

In the 19th and 20th centuries there were different interests and reasons for restricting, expanding or specifically orienting history lessons and conveying certain contents or beliefs. This ranged from monarchist-dynastic loyalty in the 19th century to socialist class struggle thinking in the GDR.

In the 19th century grammar school, Hellas and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Reformation and the Prussian-German history since the Thirty Years War were in the foreground, methodologically dominated by lectures and textbooks. In the elementary school the clear teacher narration about native and Prussian-German history prevailed , aimed at mind and feeling. State curricula and school book approval provided administrative control with the tools to influence teaching.

In the Weimar Republic the discussion about the importance of history lessons for education about democracy and citizenship increased. The practice remained largely committed to a German national ideology, which above all denied a German war guilt in the First World War. In education under National Socialism , many scientific barriers to which conservative teachers still clung to were lost against racial ideological propaganda. The attempt at central control, however, got stuck in the World War from 1939 onwards due to organizational overload.

History lessons from 1945 in the Soviet occupation zone and the GDR were geared towards the Marxist-Leninist view of history. Above all, this included the declaration of fascism , the role of capitalists in the bourgeois state and class society . Ultimately, it was about propaganda legitimation of the GDR as an allegedly better German state.

In West German history lessons, the subjects of the failure of the Weimar Republic and National Socialism were initially excluded for years or dealt with without a critical perspective. Many students did not find out about it in school. Only since the 1960s has this been more strongly demanded and enforced. Since about 1970 there was a critical history didactics that more or less successfully influenced teaching through teacher training .

In the Federal Republic of Germany today, dealing with dictatorships and the history of democracy and human rights is one of the central tasks. In different countries, the goals and materials as well as methods of history lessons differ significantly. The Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig is researching this aspect intensively.


The main medium of history teaching is still the history textbook . However, this medium has undergone significant changes in the course of its development. Today it is used less as a textbook than as a workbook. Other media include, in particular, other texts (especially newspaper articles), audiovisual media (film, video, television, sound recordings (see visual media in history lessons)), eye and eyewitness interviews, and increasingly computer-aided media such as CD as part of technical developments -ROM and Internet added.



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  1. z. B. at lower secondary level in Schleswig-Holstein
  2. Bernd Schönemann , Holger Thünemann: textbook work. The history textbook in classroom practice . Wochenschau Verlag, Schwalbach im Taunus 2010, ISBN 978-3-89974-592-4 , p. 14.