Denis Shemilt, (perhaps slightly floridly?), describes empathy as “The divine wind that breathes life into the dry bones of the past, turns dust to flesh and inspires pupils to commune with their predecessors.”
Shemilt, D. (1984) Beauty and the philosopher: empathy in history and classroom, in A. Dickinson, P. Lee and P.. Rogers (eds) Learning History, Oxford, Heinemann: p. 39)
(Pupils) “need to be able to reconstruct historical situations from the viewpoints of people living at the time if they are to make informed judgements about why people took or did not take particular courses of action. Such reconstructions must be based on evidence- they should not be uncontrolled flights of the imagingation.”
HMI, (1988) History from 5-16, London, HMSO.
“Historical empathy should be part of the learning of all pupils across the whole age and ability range.. activities might pose the question, for example, why William of Normandy still decided to cross the channel in the autumn of 1066, despite the threat of equinoctial gales, knowing that he might face a powerful and effective Saxon army but unaware of its forced march from the North.”
HMI, (1985) History in the Primary and Secondary Years: an HMI view, London, DES, p. 3.
“What sort of achievement is empathy? Entertaining the beliefs, goals, and values of other people or- insofar as one can talk in this way-of other societies- is a difficult intellectual achievement. It is difficult because it means holding in mind whole structures of ideas which are not one’s own, and with which one may profoundly disagree. And not just holding them in mind as inert knowledge, but being in a position to work with them in order to expalin and understand what people dod in the past. All this is hard because it requires a high level of thinking.”
Lee. P. and Ashby, R. (1987) Children’s concepts of empathy and understanding in history, in C. Portal, (Ed.) The History Curriculum for Teachers, Lewes, Falmer.
“Most American history text books regard Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement as abject failures. Hitler, textbooks commonly argue, was not deterred by Chamberlain’s policy, and as a result of its apparent failure, nations across the globe were plunged into the world’s most destructive war. Unfortunately, those making that analysis of the events in prewar Europe deny the complexity of the situation and, more pertinently, fail to consider the options available to Chamberlain and the sociopolitical context in which he operated. To hlp students to understand those events of 60 years ago, teachers can use the model lessons to present their students with a historical dilemma. The lessons require students to empathise with Chamberlain and to understand and appreciate his actions and the context that shaped them. Ultimately, after students are drawn closer to the events of the age, they are required to give thoughtful evaluation to Chamberlain’s policy.”
Foster, S. (1999) Using historical empathy to excite students about the study of history: can you empathise with Neville Chamberlain?, Social Studies, Jan/Feb 1999, p. 18.
The fetishization of dates, a leitmotiv in the criticism of the ‘New History’, privileges great events and foregrounds the state at the expense of civil society, elevating public over private lives. It puts a premium on that age old stand by of the crib books – the ‘turning point’ or ‘water-shed’. It devalues, or ignores entirely, those more molecular processes in which domestic life and personal identities are shaped…
…the starting point of the ‘new history’ – a ‘skills’ approach based on the critical reading of documents and original materials – is one which the research historian is likely to find sympathetic. It focuses, in a way history has often failed to do, on subjectivity – or what the Annales school in France calls mentalités; and it has a place for the kind of subject, e.g. seventeenth-century witchcraft, which the finest modern scholarship has opened up to historical enquiry. It leaves space, as any child’s history should – in a country where Dickens is favourite reading and Hogarth a father of national art – for the comic and the grotesque. In terms of examination, the desire to test children on what they can find out rather than on what they can remember seems admirable.
On Empathy and ‘History from below’ in the classroom from ‘History’s Battle for a New Past’, The Guardian 21 January 1989 by Raphael Samuel. Island Stories, Unravelling Britain Theatres of Memory, Volume II p. 198.