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History teachers and historical knowledge in Quebec and Sweden: Epistemic beliefs in distinguishing the past from history and its teaching


Henrik Åström Elmersjö

Paul Zanazanian


This article looks at upper secondary school history teachers’ understandings of how historical knowledge is constructed and at the impact this might have on their classroom practice. The article has two objectives: (1) to examine how teachers view the relationship between the past and history – as a basic entry point peek into their epistemic thinking; and (2) to explore their reflexiveness regarding epistemic issues and what their view might mean for their perspectives and their teaching of history, and by extension, whether they see themselves as being political in the process or not. As part of an international, comparative study on history teachers and their epistemic positioning in the teaching of rival histories, we use a mixed-methods approach to present empirical data from Quebec and Sweden. Forming a cross-cultural dialogue, this comparative focus permits us to identify and discuss nuances that emerge in teachers’ thinking in two completely different societies that nevertheless share similar democratic and political outlooks when it comes to the teaching of school history. In discussing the relationship between the past and history, it appears that teachers have different understandings of what historical knowledge is, how it is constructed, and the implications these meanings have for their practice. The findings demonstrate that there is a main difference and an important similarity between both sites. The difference is one where Swedish teachers are more inclined to make a clear distinction between the past and history, than their Quebecois counterparts who tend to be less prone to making this distinction clear. The similarity, in turn, refers to a majority of participants who are located in between these two extremities – objectivist and critical – and who demonstrate a case of epistemic “wobbling”. In describing the reasons for this difference, namely Quebec’s overt quest for nation-building among its various historical communities, the political nature of history teaching comes to light. In digging deeper in this difference to better qualify the emergent wobbling, the results furthermore illustrate a strong connection between criticality and reflexivity in teachers’ thinking and practice. More specifically, those who clearly distinguish between the past and history demonstrate an ability to account for history’s subjectiveness and are therefore more attuned to questioning their own role in the whole teaching process.


Epistemic beliefs, history teachers, Quebec, Sweden, upper secondary school, mixed methods

How to Cite:

Elmersjö, H. Å., Zanazanian, P. (2022). History teachers and historical knowledge in Quebec and Sweden: Epistemic beliefs in distinguishing the past from history and its teaching. Historical Encounters, 9(1), 181-195.


  • Published 15 April 2022

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

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

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