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Schools, universities and history in the world of twenty-first century skills: “The end of knowledge as we know it”?

Lyn Yates (University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




This paper was originally presented as a keynote presentation to the annual conference of the ANZHES whose theme was “knowledge skills and expertise”. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on history as a field of study in the context of changing conditions and new debates about knowledge in the twenty-first century.


The paper reviews three important lines of sociological argument about changed conditions for knowledge: the case to “bring knowledge back in” to school curriculum; the contention that knowledge in universities is moving from “mode 1” to “mode 2” forms; and arguments about testing and audit culture effects on the practices of universities and schools. It then draws on interviews with historians and history teachers to show how they think about the form of their field, its value, and the impact of the changing conditions signalled in those arguments.


The paper argues that some features of the discipline which have been important to history continue to be apparent but are under challenge in the conditions of education institutions today and that there is a disjunction between teachers’ views of the value of history and those evident in the public political arena.

Research limitations/implications

The paper draws on a major Australia Research Council funded study of “knowledge building across schooling and higher education” which focusses on issues of disciplinarity and the fields of physics and history.


The paper is intended as a new reflection on the field of value to those working as historians.



This article is a revised version of an invited keynote paper to the ANZHES Conference held at the University of Melbourne in December 2014. The author wishes to acknowledge the financial support of the Australian Research Council for the project “Knowledge building in school and higher education: policy strategies and effects (DP110102466)”, and the many fruitful discussions she has had with other members of the research team on this project, Peter Woelert, Victoria Millar and Kate O’Connor, in the course of this project. A more detailed book based on the project is in preparation “since published as Yates et al., 2017”.


Yates, L. (2017), "Schools, universities and history in the world of twenty-first century skills: “The end of knowledge as we know it”?", History of Education Review, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 2-14.



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