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Experiencing historical empathy's humanizing lenses: adolescents' interpretative flights

Sherri Colby (Curriculum and Instruction, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Commerce, Texas, USA)

Social Studies Research and Practice

ISSN: 1933-5415

Article publication date: 26 January 2021

Issue publication date: 25 May 2021




Defined as perceiving the past via the lens of former peoples, historical empathy engenders rich cognitive and affective understandings. Drawing on Ricoeur's hermeneutics (1981, 2004), this paper departs from previous work on historical empathy by conceiving empathy as dialogically mediated by sociocultural and narrative perceptions.


This hermeneutic phenomenology explores eight adolescents' engagements with primary sources from the Second World War.


This study reveals the power of empathy to draw the students into the past and to investigate sources. Alternately, the students struggled with fanciful elaborations and overidentifications with historical figures.

Practical implications

Cultivating wise judgments begins with accepting the inherent link between students' historicity and historical empathy and then teaching students to wisely interpret.


This study broadens historical empathy's framework to include Ricoeur's hermeneutic philosophies of narrative and history.



Colby, S. (2021), "Experiencing historical empathy's humanizing lenses: adolescents' interpretative flights", Social Studies Research and Practice, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 61-74.



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