Innes, Melanie & Heather Sharp: World War I commemoration and student historical consciousness: a study of high-school students’ views

Melanie Innes & Heather Sharp

World War I commemoration and student historical consciousness: a study of high-school students’ views‘, History Education Research Journal, vol. 15, no. 2, 26 October 2018, pp. 193-205 (open access)

Establishes that ‘Gallipoli and, more broadly, WWI commemorations can be seen as a tool for celebration and promotion of a prescribed Australian culture in the public sphere’ then goes on to look at history teaching in Australia, the politicisation of (and spending on) commemoration during the Anzac centenary, and the theoretical framework of the authors’ work. The authors then describe the methodology of their study of what 76 students thought about Gallipoli commemoration during 2015.

Given the complexity and contradictions surrounding the Gallipoli campaign in Australian public history, this research was particularly interested in students’ navigation of collective memory and nationalistic narratives evident in the public sphere and popular culture, and how these inform a sense of historical consciousness surrounding the Gallipoli campaign …

The students [from Years 8 to 12] were asked to respond to the following questions: 1. Is Gallipoli a significant event for us to remember today? Why or why not? 2. How should Gallipoli be remembered today? 3. Describe any perspectives/viewpoints about Gallipoli that you feel are missing from Sources A to E. (The sources were: a historical photograph of wounded troops on the beach at Anzac Cove; a promotional poster for the television series Anzac Girls (2014); a diary entry written by a soldier at Gallipoli; and two photographs, one of commemorative Anzac Day services at a cenotaph in Australia, and one of the pilgrimage of young Australians and New Zealanders to Gallipoli, Turkey.)

The findings are presented with students divided into four types of historical consciousness, depending on their responses. Forty-two out of 75 responses displayed ‘Traditional’ historical consciousness, with a strong emphasis on ‘sacrifice’, ‘ suggesting the strong pedagogical impact of public and collective forms of commemoration surrounding Anzac Day and Gallipoli remembrance’. Other responses focused on what lessons should be learned from the Gallipoli campaign (‘Exemplary’, 13 responses), criticised the received narrative (‘Critical’, 16 responses), or displayed a sophisticated understanding of the possibility of alternative interpretations (‘Genetic, 4 responses). The quotes from students are interesting and may be compared with those gathered by Anna Clark a decade ago.

The authors’ conclusions are brief but perceptive:

The political concerns with both how history is taught in Australian schools and the use of the Anzac legend as a symbol of Australian nationalism have had an impact on how this historical event is understood by students.

While the current Australian curriculum requires students to consider the commemoration of Gallipoli over time, implying an encouragement of critical thinking and an understanding of contestability, it is clear that many students still feel a deep emotional connection to Anzac …

[The students displaying Traditional responses] cited their understanding of the significance of the Gallipoli campaign for the Australian nation, particularly as a sacrifice for the nation. Similarly, responses displaying exemplary forms of historical consciousness still held to the values associated with the Anzac legend, while feeling that there were lessons that could be learned from this experience to shape the future of the nation. The strength of this theme suggests that this nationalistic narrative is still being reproduced … The evidence that students are also resisting these narratives, particularly in their post-Year 9 schooling, also indicates the strength of the transformative aspects of the curriculum.

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