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Students' historicisation of the environmental crisis: A narrative of industrialisation, ignorance and greed


Albin Sönnergren Gripe, Johan Sandahl


As the field of history education begins to acknowledge the need to respond to the challenges of the Anthropocene, questions arise concerning students' ability to use history to make sense of pressing environmental issues. To address this, 67 Swedish upper secondary school students were asked to historicise issues like global warming and share their ideas concerning the present and the future. Within the framework of Jörn Rüsen's narrative theory, this article analyses how and to what extent these students experienced and interpreted the past and used history to orient themselves in relation to such issues. It also develops on the outcome of this process. While most students historicised the situation, many students made limited use of history. Their typical narrative can be described as a linear story of historical industrialisation driven by the hunger for progression and wealth and facilitated by ignorance. It was told with little detail or reference to evidence and in a way that generally seemed unsupported by historical thinking. Moreover, their typical narrative mostly aligned with the standard science-based Anthropocene narrative, lacking cultural and political perspectives. Although their orientations varied, students focused on technical solutions and lifestyle adjustments rather than civic engagement and politics. Students were worried about the future. However, the narrative of technological and scientific progression and the belief that people in the past lacked awareness and technological alternatives gave students hope. On the other hand, viewing them as informed or inherently selfish contributed to pessimism. Supported by theoretical work, the findings indicate ways school history may support students' ability to deal with Anthropocene issues, helping them to experience and interpret the past and the present in a more nuanced and elaborate way. They also highlight the need for content that aids students' ability to anticipate Anthropocene scenarios and reflect on strategies for engagement.


History education, Anthropocene, Historical consciousness, Historical thinking, Public narratives, Environmental and sustanability education

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Date Published


How to Cite

Gripe, A. S., & Sandahl, J. (2024). Students' historicisation of the environmental crisis. Historical Encounters, 11(1), 1-17.


  • Issue Published 10 January 2024

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0​ License

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