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The ABC of history education: a comparison of Australian, British and Canadian approaches to teaching national and First Nations histories

Alison Bedford (School of Education, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 1 November 2023

Issue publication date: 21 November 2023




This essay engages with scholarship on history as a discipline, curriculum documents and academic and public commentary on the teaching of history in Australian, British and Canadian secondary contexts to better understand the influence of the tension between political pressure and disciplinary practice that drives the history wars in settler-colonial nations, how this plays out in secondary history classrooms and the ramifications this may have on students' democratic dispositions.


This article aims to compare secondary history curricula and pedagogies in Australia, Britain and Canada to better articulate and conceptualise the influence of the “history wars” over the teaching of national histories upon the intended and enacted curriculum and how this contributes to the formation of democratic dispositions within students. A conceptual model, drawing on the curriculum assessment of Porter (2006) and Gross and Terra's definition of “difficult pasts” has been developed and used as the basis for this comparison. This model highlights the competing influences of political pressure upon curriculum creation and disciplinary change shaping pedagogy, and the impact these forces may have upon students' experience.


The debate around what content students learn, and why, is fraught because it is a conversation about what each nation values and how they construct their own national identity(ies). This is particularly timely when the democratic self-identification of many nations is being challenged. The seditious conspiracy to storm the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, Orban's “illiberal democracy” in Hungary and the neo-Nazis in Melbourne, Australia are examples of the rise of anti-democratic sentiment globally. Thus, new consideration of how we teach national histories and the impact this has on the formation of democratic dispositions and skills is pressing.


The new articulation of a conceptual model for the impact of the history wars on education is an innovative synthesis of wide-ranging research on: the impacts of neoliberalism and cultural restorationism upon the development of intended curriculum; discipline-informed inquiry pedagogies used to enact the curriculum; and the teaching of national narratives as a political act. This comprehensive comparison of the ways in which history education in settler-colonial nations has developed over time provides new insight into the common elements of national history education, and the role this education can play in developing democratic dispositions.



The author would like to acknowledge the support of the UniSQ School of Education “Q1 Revision Support Initiative” in finalising this paper, and particularly Emeritus Professor Nan Bahr for her thoughtful and generous feedback.


Bedford, A. (2023), "The ABC of history education: a comparison of Australian, British and Canadian approaches to teaching national and First Nations histories", History of Education Review, Vol. 52 No. 2/3, pp. 99-114.



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