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Historical thinking and family historians: Renovating the house of history?



Emma Shaw


The University of Newcastle, Australia


Family history research, as a multi-billion-dollar industry, is one of the most popular pastimes in the world with millions of enthusiasts worldwide. Anecdotally regarded by some in the academy as being non-traditional, family historians are changing the historiographic landscape through the proliferation and dissemination of their familial narratives across multiple media platforms. Learning to master the necessary research methodologies to undertake historical work is a pedagogic practice, but for many family historians this occurs on the fringe of formal education settings in an act of public pedagogy. As large producers of the past, there have been many important studies into the research practices of family historians, where family historians have been shown to draw upon the research methodologies of professional historians.  Paradoxically, little attention has been paid to how these large producers of historical knowledge think historically.

This paper reports on interview findings from a recent Australian study into the historical thinking of family historians. Drawing on Peter Seixas’ (2011) historical thinking concepts as a heuristic lens, this research finds that some family historians, despite being largely untrained in historical research methodologies (Shaw, 2018), display the theoretical nuances of the history discipline in (re)constructing and disseminating their familial pasts. 


Family historians, Historical thinking, Substantive history, Procedural history, Public pedagogy

How to Cite:

Shaw, E. (2021). Historical thinking and family historians: Renovating the house of history? Historical Encounters, 8(1), 83-96.


  • Published 4 November 2021

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

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

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