Universal Values versus Historical Thinking: A Study of Human Rights Education in Sweden and the U.S., 2014-2017

Both past and present history teaching has aimed not only to teach students about the past but also to encourage critical thinking and foster good morals. Especially after the Second World War, international and national guidelines emphasized the importance of history teaching to promote peace, critical thinking and human rights. In our modern information era, filled with conflicts and violations of human rights, history teaching has been put forward as a way to teach students appropriate skills of critical thinking and as a way to safeguard democratic values.

This project aims to map and clarify how history is construed through classroom practices designed to promote historical thinking and empathy. Theories and intentions are problematized in relation to what is possible in the complex reality of history education. In this study of human rights education in Sweden and the US digital tools are used to process and elucidate how history can be used, understood and written in different countries and school cultures. Theories of historical thinking are used to analyse teaching materials, test, students’ texts and interviews with students and teachers. This project highlights how conflicting theoretical ideals of critical thinking and universal values play out in the complexity of school practices, and how students can combine historical thinking and empathy when writing history.

Researcher: Thomas Nygren, Uppsala University

Contact: thomas.nygren@edu.uu.se 

Financing: Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation

Cooperating Institutions

Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, CESTA, Stanford

Stanford History and Education Group, SHEG