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1In France, the links between the teaching of history in secondary schools and historical research in universities, higher education institutes, and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) often seem tenuous. Evocations of these links usually boil down to debates about updating school curricula, invocations—often with ulterior political motives—of the teaching profession’s unity in spite of obvious differences and inequalities, or, on the contrary, denunciations of an objective that is idealistic, if not demagogical and senseless. In such a context, it might seem odd to devote a dossier to this question in an international academic journal. [1] Indeed, this choice provoked vigorous debate within the editorial board of the Annales, especially since the dossier has the peculiarity of drawing on direct experience by giving a voice to secondary-school teachers and teacher trainers rather than specialized academic researchers.

2This “intervention” is a response to a major transformation currently unfolding within French universities, a transformation that should concern all actors in the chain of the production and transmission of historical knowledge—in middle and high schools as well as in higher education. Since 2009, a new chapter in the reform of teacher training has unfolded, culminating in 2013 with the creation of new graduate schools for teaching staff and education, the écoles supérieures du professorat et de l’éducation (ESPEs). This development is part of a longer-term process dating back to the late 1980s and the creation of university institutes for teacher training (Instituts universitaires de formation des maîtres, IUFMs), which were gradually integrated into the institutional landscape of higher education in the 1990s and 2000s. Since academics have been institutionally obliged to take a position, the question of their place in regard to teacher training has reached an unprecedented intensity.

3In today’s context of acute austerity and its influence on certain decisions inspired by financial rather than intellectual considerations, the question of balancing academic and pedagogical skills in the training and careers of history teachers has once again taken center stage, with all the simplifications that this reductive opposition entails. The reform has reignited a public debate that began in the late 1970s, relating to teaching methods and, above all, the curricula for secondary education in general. This debate often becomes impassioned when it comes to history, and regularly stirs up not just professionals but also political figures, the media, and a whole series of community actors, non-profit organizations, and various scholarly societies. This situation is sometimes understood as reflecting a specifically French approach to the articulation between education (and, more broadly, society) and history, both as the past and as a discipline.

4Nevertheless, the problem has been raised in many other countries in terms that are often comparable, as shown by the debates that have taken place over the last decade from Italy to India, or by the contributions on Germany, England, and the Netherlands gathered by the journal Le Débat in its 2013 special issue on the teaching of history. [2] Awareness of this question’s international dimension is all the more powerful since the new mobility of pupils, students, and teachers over the last two decades, particularly within the European Union, has led to a reciprocal understanding of educational systems. As the present dossier suggests, while educational policies remain national, their horizon is international, not only because of the nature of the underlying political and epistemological debates but also because of the effects of the European framework on both secondary and higher education institutions. The so-called “Bologna” process, which led to the introduction of the “LMD” (licence/master/doctorat) reform in French higher education in the early 2000s, is also one of the primary factors behind what since 2010 has been termed the “masterization” of public-sector competitive recruitment exams (or concours) for secondary education, namely the integration of the certificat d’aptitude au professorat de l’enseignement du second degré (CAPES) into the framework of a master’slevel university diploma.

5Debates within the university community have focused on the potential changes (seen as positive or negative) that this reform might imply for the French system of recruiting through nationwide examinations, which the alignment of recruitment practices across Europe would suppress. Despite this, the scale of the shift has not been sufficiently remarked. Since the beginning of the Third Republic, teacher training in France has always been conducted in part by specialized institutions such as the écoles normales, or under the aegis of the employer, the Department of Education (often represented by intermediate structures such as local boards of education or the schools inspectorate, through, for instance, regional pedagogical centers). Breaking with this tradition, the reform theoretically shifts the responsibility for training future teachers—not only in their scholarly discipline but also in terms of the actual practice of their profession—onto the university sector. It is in this capacity that this evolution directly concerns academics, who are both teachers and researchers and, indeed, are known as enseignants-chercheurs in French. If the entirety of a history teacher’s training is to take place within the university, it is fundamental to determine the extent, the nature, and the aims of the role that academic historians (or indeed researchers in any discipline that is also taught in schools) would like to play therein. It must also be seen whether this is even possible, for the previous integration of IUFMs into universities was very superficial and led to the creation of entities that were often insular from both an operational and a research point of view.

6The prior existence of separate institutions such as écoles normales, regional pedagogical centers, and latterly IUFMs does not necessarily mean that the new ESPEs must be isolated from university departments or research centers. Nor does it imply the continuation of the former division of tasks, under which the work was split between specialists in the discipline (in our case historians) providing the academic component and specialists in didactics or experienced teachers, who conducted skills-based training. This division supposes that researchers have nothing specific to contribute in terms of the practice of teaching the knowledge that they develop. Faced with the cross-disciplinary approach of the educational sciences, a discipline that itself grew out of the traditional division between academic and practical knowledge, researchers have for a number of decades wondered about the possibility and potential of a didactic method anchored in academic history itself, drawing both theoretical and practical resources from it in order to nourish the teaching of history in schools. It is this same question that lies at the origin of our reflection in this dossier of articles.

7Treating this issue seriously seems all the more important given that its debates and institutional evolutions have an effect on the discipline as it is practiced in research and higher education, even if this effect is not always immediately visible. For the link with secondary education is not simply a vertical one, descending from the academic discipline to its diffusion in schools. The changes at work in secondary-level teaching do not simply modify, often problematically, the concrete conditions of entering into and exercising the history teacher’s profession or the way that historical knowledge is transmitted within the social body. They also affect historians themselves, and much more than one would imagine. The academic world has been profoundly weakened by the division established between “research” master’s and “teacher-training” master’s programs. Whereas many future secondary-level teachers previously had some initial experience of historical research before taking the competitive recruitment examinations, the institutional structure now obliges them to pursue a semblance of research and prepare for the concours at the same time, with the result that “research” masters are deprived of very good students and future teachers are prevented from obtaining a genuine initiation into research. This is not the only concern that should interest researchers. The academic practice of historians is itself shaped in part by the organization of university history programs and their chronological divisions, largely founded on secondary education. In France, the central place given to the Department of Education’s recruitment exams and their standardized exercises (report-style dissertations, source commentaries, etc.) within universities—including the role that they play, via the higher teaching qualification or agrégation, in the careers of researchers—means that the world of research is much more closely aligned with that of secondary teaching than in many other countries. One might also emphasize the questionable historiographical and epistemological effects of the specifically French link between history and geography, a link which today has become partially superfluous as far as interdisciplinary exchange at the university level is concerned, but which persists in university-level programs due to their orientation toward secondary educational goals.

8In this sense, the transformation of the approaches, content, and methods of history teaching at the middle- and high-school levels concerns all historians. The topicality of this institutional evolution and the questions it raises for historians lie at the heart of this Annales dossier and account for its form. Its singularity is that of a problem presented, at a particular moment, to our intellectual community. It has been a long time since these questions have been discussed in this journal, and it is not their natural space. Assembling interventions of this type to assert some kind of continuity within the Annales on the teaching of history would clearly amount to constructing a fictitious genealogy. Nevertheless, there have been a succession of significant moments when contributors have spoken out on the subject, beginning with a 1937 text in which Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre called for a “renewal” of history teaching. Citing a context in which “profound reforms are being carried out on our old educational system,” the journal’s editors stated: “As an enemy of any sort of hermetically sealed science, and moreover persuaded that in the orientation of their thoughts instructors are inevitably as subject as those they instruct to the influence of the transmission methods they must follow, [the Annales] have never considered questions of teaching irrelevant to their horizons.” [3]

9In these words, we can make out the echo of the education policy pursued by the Front Populaire from 1936 on. In a similar way, Febvre’s 1946 note on primary schools should be read in the context of the reorganization of the French Republic’s institutions after its liberation from the Nazis, just as Suzanne Citron’s 1968 plea “for the ‘aggiornamento’ of history-geography in secondary education”—supported by Fernand Braudel, who served as president of the agrégation’s jury and had written a school textbook—cannot be understood in isolation from the late-1960s debates on schools and the university. The Annales continued to address these questions in the years that followed, publishing contributions by Monique de Saint-Martin and Pierre Bourdieu, Pascale Gruson, and Michel de Certeau. [4] These contributions meant that of all the major international history and social science journals, the Annales was the most concerned with the transmission of historians’ academic and practical knowledge toward the public sphere and, even more uniquely, toward schools.

10These texts were all born out of particular circumstances and do not represent a continuity; de Certeau’s remarks, the most recent on the subject, were published nearly thirty years ago. Two essential aspects nevertheless reoccur: the notion that upheavals in secondary education policy should concern academics; and the conviction that academics have a particular contribution to make to these kinds of debates, based on their concrete experience of research. This is how de Certeau’s 1986 article must be understood when it calls “for a school for diversity” that pursues new paths in order to make itself accessible to students:


Exhume from acquired knowledge the real procedures that produce it. In fact, teaching often conceals them by exposing their results… By making them clear, we would improve our acquaintance with selected operations that provide access to our disciplines… The goal is not one of demystifying the credibility of knowledge (this would be ridiculous, dangerous, and false), but of investing back into the discourse that masks it the existence of collective competitive forces, and hence to provide minorities who live their own situation in terms of belonging with instruments of analysis.[5]

12Addressing the question of multi-ethnic school publics—a different question from that which concerns us here, but one that has lost none of its pertinence—de Certeau points to a reflexive horizon at the very heart of the act of teaching, one that reveals the process of knowing, the “real procedures” that produce knowledge and are also those of researchers in general, in this instance historians. In a similar fashion, research and researchers have a contribution to make to secondary-school teaching during the current period of crisis, when the confusion of the general public, middle-and high-school teachers, and even historians themselves is mounting in the face of a discipline whose social function and scientific methods have been bitterly debated for thirty years. It might seem curious to emphasize the importance of academic research at a moment when the school system appears to be having difficulty fulfilling its role of providing basic education. Yet we believe that academic research can provide a way of thinking about the renewal—what Citron would call the aggiornamento—of the very conception of teaching history. Its potential extends well beyond the unique question to which the contribution of academic research is often limited: the updating of school curricula through the integration of new knowledge or historical subjects. The historian’s profession is characterized first and foremost by its attitude toward historical knowledge and the traces of the past, and the didactic impact of this must be emphasized.

13The historian’s knowledge is in fact open-ended, constantly under construction, and in this it is inseparable from a practical knowledge or know-how—just as in the epistemology of history what we call “the facts” are inseparable from the methods that make it possible to establish them and the ways they are interpreted. This knowledge is uncertain, and the constant process of creation and renewal matters at least as much as its result. It is no accident that historians often describe their work using the metaphors of the workshop and the artisan or of the laboratory and the experimental scientist: this is a way of placing the gesture that unites knowing and doing at the heart of reflection about their academic practice. The texts collected in this dossier work to contradict a vision that considers historical knowledge as a fixed quantity of information and facts. Instead, the contributors seek to introduce precisely this “gesture” into schools, preserving its original vivacity and revitalizing it in return through the reflections that they offer historians. The dossier does not aim to prescribe a particular practice for teaching history. It simply seeks to use accounts of experiences and practices to shed light on a dimension that such discussions often leave in the shadows: the role of research as a lever for discipline-specific pedagogical innovation. It offers a variety of viewpoints and registers, and thus does not claim to be representative of history teaching as a whole in today’s France. It aims, more modestly, to make visible the plurality of places (the classroom, teacher training, continuing education, curricula, competitive recruitment examinations, and so on) where the link between teaching and research can be constructed, and to give a voice to those actors who have pursued this experiment in practice.

14The contributions of Virginie Barbier and Alexandre Berthon-Dumurgier thus revisit their concrete experiences of relating the pedagogy of history to historiographical and epistemological issues over their careers as middle-school teachers. The ability to nurture this link over the long course of a teaching career is the subject of the text by Hayat El Kaaouachi, who raises the question of the role of research in the continuing professional education of teachers from the perspective of new content, but also and especially of new methods. In studying “school history” as a category, Laurence De Cock moves toward a reflexivity in which historians can apply their methods to a critical reflection on the future transmission of the knowledge they produce, thereby linking it more closely to pedagogical and social contexts. Finally, as demonstrated by Christian Delacroix and Bénédicte Girault, to be effective this connection between research and teaching must be integrated into teacher training itself. This is the central issue in their analyses of the reform of the recruitment exams and the master’s programs that prepare for them, which they explore from a perspective that is both historical and pedagogical. They also consider the role that university-based historians could play, provided that the question of academic research is taken seriously in the training of future teachers.

15As soon as one considers the didactics of history and the work of historians in terms of the same model—in other words, as an active and collective construction of knowledge—it becomes possible to circumvent the sterile opposition between an approach based on knowledge and another based on pedagogy. Placing the question of the construction of historical knowledge at the heart of the middle-school classroom, using history to teach the investigative methods of the social sciences, and actively collaborating with university-based research historians are all ways of breaking with both a psychologizing approach to the teaching profession and the idea of a vertical transmission of a knowledge closed in on itself. In this sense, research (understood as both a process and a spirit) can become a tool that makes it possible to institute the class—in the sense of institutional pedagogy [6]—as a regulated space for the production of knowledge in which the students are the actors.

16The debates on school curricula must also be revisited in these terms. Discussions that consistently foreground the question of content and its political resonances—based on caricaturized oppositions like the choice between Louis XIV and medieval Africa—must give way to a new reflection on the concrete forms of history teaching and its intellectual impact. From this perspective, the principal stakes in debates about the history of non-European worlds should become clear: the anxiety sometimes expressed about the supplanting of national history by global history is often based on summary analyses concealing assumptions that have no relation to academic arguments, or on fantasies with no connection to the actual content of teaching in middle and high schools. [7] In order to be relevant, the shift must involve not just objects of study, but also methods and scales. Connected history does not simply represent a politically correct willingness to learn about other worlds, but rather another way of constructing knowledge, using for example the confrontation of sources with diverse viewpoints in order to reflect on the writing of history. As Romain Bertrand has remarked: “on a strictly historiographical level, the dividing line does not lie between the ‘national’ and the ‘global,’ but between the ‘national narrative’ and history as a form of critical knowledge. For, just as there is a history of France that is not simply event-based but also social, there is a ‘global narrative’ that, eager for major names and important dates, has the sole aim and effect of buttressing a quest for precedents erected as alibis for desired presents.” [8] A student in an event-centered, lecture-style class on medieval Africa does not always make more intellectual progress than students who are encouraged to use historical sources to problematize the notions of court and society in Louis XIV’s Versailles. The hierarchy of political and social values enlisted by participants in the public debate tends to mask other intellectual issues that in reality should directly concern historians as social scientists—issues relating to the transmission of their approach and its renewals.

17Shifting the focus of the debate on history teaching in middle and high schools toward its links with research distances it from the strictly sociopolitical conflicts that surround the discipline of history. It also lifts “school” history (as understood by De Cock) out of the rut it risks falling into, caught between society’s contradictory political expectations and intellectual disdain on the part of researchers. School history can thus be conceived differently: not as a degraded form of “scholarly” history, a sort of loss or simplification, but as one of the intellectual spaces of a problematized history. As demonstrated by the (too) little-known work of historians in journals such as Le cartable de Clio, or by researchers like Didier Cariou who focus on the didactics of history, this space is based on a specific pedagogy: the learning of a method fundamentally linked to the discipline of history. This should not be confused, as it all too often is, with a general pedagogy forged by the educational sciences that cuts across different academic disciplines. On the contrary, this intellectual space must depend on the same epistemology that guides researchers in their work. The practices of the classroom can nourish the reflections of historians, just as the classroom can be nurtured in turn by transformations in historiography.

18As well as providing content, the “gesture” or method of the researcher who conceives of history as a social science can be placed at the heart of the transmission of history in schools, for this way of working is also the richest in meaning for students. It immerses them in the core of a knowledge that, presented in a form they can appropriate for themselves, becomes not only a culture but also and above all an instrument for transforming the self and mastering the world, thus renewing the link between epistemology and policy in the teaching of history in a new way. As Bloch and Febvre wrote: “In times of relative stability, this teaching generally spreads without conflict, contradictions, or doubt. However, when periods of political and economic difficulty—and thus of social anxiety—set in, it naturally reflects the uncertainty of men, the contradictions in their thought, and sometimes their poorly regulated revolts against a past that oppresses them but which they nevertheless do not know how to replace. In terms of the teaching of history, our very profession as historians makes it impossible to forget that our concerns and hopes as specialists are ultimately no more than the expression of a much larger drama of conscience.” [9]


  • [*]
    This article was translated from the French by Arby Gharibian and edited by Chloe Morgan and Stephen Sawyer.
  • [1]
    The dossier “Historical Research and History Teaching in Secondary Schools” is an extension of the debate entitled “The Annales and Teaching,” organized by the journal at the Rendez-vous de l’histoire held at Blois on October 12, 2013.
  • [2]
    “Difficile enseignement de l’histoire,” special issue, Le Débat 175, no. 3 (2013).
  • [3]
    Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, “Pour le renouveau de l’enseignement historique,” Annales d’histoire économique et sociale 9, no. 2 (1937): 113–29, here p. 113.
  • [4]
    All of these texts are available on the Annales’s website:
  • [5]
    Michel de Certeau, “Économies ethniques : pour une école de la diversité,” Annales ESC 41, no. 4 (1986): 789–815, here pp. 809–10. For a partial English translation, including this citation, see de Certeau, “Ethnic Economies: The School for Diversity,” in The Capture of Speech and Other Political Writings, ed. Luce Giard, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 173–74.
  • [6]
    On the subject of institutional pedagogy, see Raymond Bénévent and Claude Mouchet, L’école, le désir et la loi. Fernand Oury et la pédagogie institutionnelle : histoire, concepts, pratiques (Nîmes: Champ social, 2014).
  • [7]
    See for example Nicolas Weill-Parot, “Recherche historique et ‘mondialisation’ : vrais enjeux et fausses questions. L’exemple de la science médiévale,” Revue historique 671, no. 3 (2014): 655–73, which blends a relevant analysis of the historiography of medieval science in the East and West with very questionable ellipses on educational practices regarding the history of non-European worlds.
  • [8]
    Romain Bertrand, “Un continent de possibles oubliés. Les relations économiques Europe-Asie à l’époque moderne,” Esprit 400, no. 12 (2013): 33–45, here p. 45.
  • [9]
    Bloch and Febvre, “Pour le renouveau de l’enseignement,” 129–30.
Étienne Anheim
Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
Laboratoire DYPAC (EA 2449)
Bénédicte Girault
Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines/École supérieure du professorat et de l’éducation de Versailles
Translated from the French by
Arby Gharibian
Uploaded on on 09/02/2017
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