Shifting Scales of Time and Space: Establishing Connections Across the Humanities

Introduction

Meaningful understanding of history and geography involves being able to identify and establish connections across time and space scales (An et al., 2015; Bain, 2005; Baker, 2003; Foskett, 1999). Nonetheless, one key problem in the history and geography curricula of schools today is this lack of connectivity and sense of scale.[i] Thus, it is appropriate to find out how to help teachers and students expand their disciplinary thinking towards a more holistic (or interdisciplinary) approach that encourages them to shift scales and make connections across time and space. To answer this question, this article proposes a potential conceptual framework in which History and Geography, as interdisciplinary subjects, can conduct meaningful dialogues with each other so that students and teachers can extend their thinking to deepen their understanding of both disciplines and to identify connections across scales of time and place. This framework will be introduced through two initiatives, The Historian’s Lab (HL) and The Sustainability Learning Lab (SLL), funded by an EduLab grant, and currently being developed by the staff in the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group (HSSE AG) in the National Institute of Education (NIE), (Singapore). However, it is important to note that this framework is a work-in-progress and will be further modified and developed as the project moves forward.

Background

Historians and geographers have long argued the necessity of viewing both History and Geography (as subjects) from wider perspectives - beyond isolated events of the past or physical geographic features - to identify connections across time and space (Baker, 2003). For instance, historian Geoffrey Barraclough has emphasised the need to look beyond national histories to a whole world system of history, arguing that it is not only possible but also necessary to view the past “by attuning it to the world in which we live in today” (as cited in Baker, 2003, p.194), so as to gain a more sophisticated understanding of historical events. Hence, instead of the traditional narrow focus on Asian history as the history of a region, it could be understood in relation to Asia’s place in the world and through making connections to the past, present and future across both time and space. In a keynote address at the recent Humanities Colloquium organised by NIE (2016), historian Bob Bain, in channelling French historian Emmaunuel Le Roy Ladurie, conveyed a similar idea. Using Ladurie’s famous observation of historians being either parachutists or truffle-hunters, Bain expanded the metaphors to state his case that it is a necessity for historians to be both truffle-hunters and parachutists.[ii]

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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