Kathryn Hutchinson discusses how important it is to present history from different perspectives. She talks about the way visiting sites of significant events and hearing stories, sometimes from the relatives of people who were there, is effective and has impact for everyone. Kathryn considers the way history is constructed and how we should find out about, and teach, different versions of events. She advocates teaching a wider view than the traditional political, economic and social discipline of history.
Professional learning conversations
How do you go about changing to a place-based programme? Consider the current NCEA requirements in your place-based programme about Māori history.
Designing a programme using local people and resources could be challenging for students required to provide evidence and research using acknowledged sources. How can you approach this?
- How do we teach students to hear and use alternative views about accepted written, versions of history?
To me it's the idea of stories of place more than anything and of perspectives on events that I guess, in my experience as a history student, as a young person, and now, have been construed from a certain angle. And to me Māori history is giving voice to other perspectives on known events. But also, there's unknown events.
We live in a – it's a new land. There’s been people here for a thousand years, give or take a few hundred, and the stories of this place shape this place. And so if we are unaware of what lies beneath or what is known and believed about places, then we miss out on stuff. It adds a richness. it doesn't matter what ethnicity you identify as, if the stories have meaning and weight to you, you can engage better.
So, for instance, last year working with some year 13s and taking them up to Opotiki and meeting with the church minister and the Whakatōhea historian and talking with both of those about significant events there, it was earth shattering for some of the European students because they had never been in that place. And I say earth-shattering, which makes it seem negative, but actually, it’s the first time ever I’ve had parents emailing me and saying thanks, because the kids were engaged.
And so I think the construction of the stories, and we were lucky enough to speak with the people who had a very clear and living memory of events, that capacity brings history alive. So I think mode of delivery and focus on structure of construction is what will impact on students, regardless of their ethnicity.
I teach a whole course on the idea of colonisation and I guess we start with Jared Diamond's idea of Guns, Germs, and Steel and that it is not just politics and, you know, I guess superiority, that enabled the success of one culture over another in economic or political terms but there are a whole lot of other factors to bring in. So I think perhaps a wider view of how history works and it's a somewhat more interdisciplinary view than has been used in the past and I think it gives, not only more traction to grasping relatively difficult concepts, but also a way in for people who feel excluded or marginalized culturally, or otherwise, because it explains what they actually literally feel. Which is in any institution, there are cultural biases and our institution, it's a great place, but it has them too. And we are actively trying to surface those biases and address them, but they remain.
And so I think when we bring in a wider viewpoint on history, the tools of analysis are greater and they're more enabling, and so the students end up, not only understanding a bit more about history but actually about their own place and their own part of it, because they fit into those stories.
The way contested events are negotiated in the present is very problematic and I'm still struggling with how to present those in a way that enables a ready access for the students. I think it's because of the nature of the known-ness of the story in the first instance.
So we're talking about the difficulties of how there are contested interpretations of it, but one of the issues is the actual stories are only known in a certain way and in a very limited way in my experience in my courses. So I think maybe the first step is approaching it from the I guess you would say the known historical record that is presented in what I would call a Pākehā version of history, alright.
So presenting that and then unpicking that to say that there is this perspective and there is this perspective and there is this perspective. But it's a real conundrum for me because we're trying to get what appeared to be –in my mind and it's my shortcoming – the barely known stories and so I'm still trying to get traction on those stories and I think once I have that, then I will be more enabled but I know there’s going to be a block because the motivations for the different perspectives are also complicated and it's how far we have to delve into those, because in the actual reality of it, we are teaching kids towards assessments. And so there's those drivers against those stories and clearly I don't have an answer, but it's a matter of, I think, engaging with the material and we are lucky to have the resources available – the people willing to share stories and share the Te Āti Awa perspective. And now the work is in making sense of that in a way that also will make sense to students and how to slide it into programmes.
I have a lot of respect and a kind of awe for the people who have the patience to tell the stories and to keep telling the stories in the hope that something will be picked up and applied in the school context. And having the people within communities, iwi or hapū who are prepared to do that is a fabulous thing. But also there are fabulous stories in just the historical records. A reading of Hansard or a reading of the correspondence to particular members of parliament or a reading of the land court papers, it tells such fabulous stories of persistence and wholesale overriding. It's fabulous. It's a fabulous rich record, and I think maybe I myself will be better serving my students by making more use of primary sources and constructing stories from those, and saying, “What if this happened? Ahh, guess what?- It did. How would we feel?”
The willingness of people to share stories is one of the really wonderful things about history and I think if we are not wedded to our own perspective of history, then we get an enormous richness out of trying to access those stories. And people recognise effort and they respond, and I have never had a sense that what I'm doing when I’m asking questions about the past, or asking for help and getting students to get a sense of a different set of circumstances, I've never had a sense of being imposing or rude. Although others might say I was. But it's always been really respected and really, really supported, which is a fabulous thing. It always amazes me about the community, what people will do for a school.