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Heritage, History, and Identity

by Sara A. Levy - 2014

Background/Context: Prior research indicates that students’ ethnic, religious, national, and racial identities often impact their interest in, emotional connection to, and knowledge about histories specific to those groups with which they identify.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: (a) What meaning do students attach to events with which they have a heritage connection? (b) How do students’ identities impact their connection to, interest in, and understanding of events with which they have a heritage connection?

Population/Participants/Subjects: This study focuses on three groups of secondary students (Hmong, Chinese, and Jewish) that studied a seminal event (respectively, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution, and the Holocaust) with which they may be considered to have a heritage connection. Therefore, the students could not have been involved in the event itself, but their parents, grandparents, other family members, or other members of an affinity group (racial, ethnic, national, or religious) to which they belong were involved.

Research Design: This qualitative study uses a multiple-case study design to interrogate the ways in which students (n=17) identify with heritage histories.

Findings/Results: Findings reveal that students who have heard about family members’ experiences during these events identify strongly with the events prior to learning about them in school. However, school knowledge was a powerful tool that enabled the students to create more lasting connections to the past.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study revealed that students connect with and understand heritage histories in multiple ways. Students whose families share personal stories about their own experiences during a specific time seem to have strong connections to heritage histories. However, some of their peers may have a strong connection to their heritage without access to the narratives associated with that heritage, leading to feelings of embarrassment or confusion. Other students’ connections to heritage histories may be enhanced by the inclusion of the heritage history in the official knowledge of the classroom, which may also lead them to develop a stronger sense of identification with more multidimensional historical actors.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17467, Date Accessed: 4/10/2021 8:16:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Sara Levy
    Wells College
    E-mail Author
    SARA A. LEVY is Assistant Professor of Education at Wells College. Her research interests center on students’ historical understanding, particularly the connection of students’ identities (racial, religious, ethnic, national, socioeconomic status, etc.) to the histories presented in the formal school curriculum. Recent publications include Deliberating Controversial Public Issues as Part of Civic Education (Avery, Levy, & Simmons, 2013) and Students' Constructions of National Narratives in Established and Emerging Democracies (Levy, Avery, & Simmons, 2011).
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