Learning Resources Bank

Using debate to understand different approaches to the past

This is a staged task :

1. Students do a split class debate based on journal articles that give conflicting analysis of a controversial topic. The students have to extract and defend an argument drawing in case studies and evidence from lectures and readings.

2. At the end of the debate, we discuss the variety of ways that historians make sense of the past and that no one particular theory may explain a historical phenomenon.

3. After the debate they have a week to identify and explore another theory to explain the witch-hunts in early modern Europe. To do this they have a Library class and library “challenge” in which students gather articles for their ‘next theory’

4. Students read, extract and evaluate a theory that might explain the witch trials. They are required to include any criticism they may have read of this theory. I do not call the written bit an essay but rather a “research challenge”. Students seem to love the idea that this means they are doing research.

The debate gives them a sense of why a theory can be inadequate and why historians may be driven to further or to try out new theories and approaches. The witch hunt material is intrinsically fascinating.