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The interplay between historical thinking and epistemological beliefs: A case study with history teachers in Flanders


Marjolein Wilke

Fien Depaepe

Karel Van Nieuwenhuyse


History teachers’ epistemological beliefs are considered to be greatly influential on their instructional practice and a necessary requirement to foster their students’ historical thinking skills. In examining this relationship, two issues arise. First, adequately capturing teachers’ epistemological beliefs remains a challenge as existing instruments appear not to be always valid and reliable. Some researchers suggest to distinguish between formal and practical epistemologies, which requires different measuring instruments. Second, it remains unclear how teachers’ epistemological beliefs influence their teaching practice as several studies found there is no straightforward relationship due to the influence of other beliefs. At the same time, the role of teachers’ own understanding of historical thinking in fostering this thinking among their students has not been extensively studied. Through a qualitative research with 21 history teachers, this study examines the relationship between teachers’ formal and practical epistemologies, their understanding of historical thinking and their instructional practice. It thereby reflects on methodological issues related to mapping teachers’ epistemological beliefs. Data analysis shows that teachers’ epistemological beliefs remain difficult to capture, due to inconsistencies in and between measuring instruments. It could be concluded, nevertheless, that, while most teachers acknowledge the interpretive and constructed nature of history, they generally do not include this in their own descriptions of historical thinking. The research supports the idea that nuanced epistemological beliefs are required for interpretive history teaching, but are not a sufficient precondition. While other beliefs and contextual factors are indeed at play, it also appears necessary to support teachers’ competence in designing materials to foster their students’ historical thinking, including epistemological reflection. The article reflects on the implications for teaching training and professional development programs. 


History education, epistemological beliefs, formal and practical epistemologies, instructional practice, historical thinking

How to Cite:

Wilke, M., Depaepe, F., & Van Nieuwenhuyse, K.. (2022). The interplay between historical thinking and epistemological beliefs: A case study with history teachers in Flanders. Historical Encounters, 9(1), 196-219.


  • 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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