Historical Consciousness in Youth. Theoretical and Exemplary Empirical Analyses


  • Carlos Kölbl Universität Bayreuth
  • Jürgen Straub Ruhr-Universität Bochum




history, historical consciousness, identity, world view, modern age, didactics of history, cultural psychology, youth age, cognitive development, qualitative research, group discussion


The thesis that historical consciousness is an anthropological competence and category is called into question. A concept of modern historical consciousness is outlined which from then on serves as a working concept. This kind of historical consciousness, it is argued, is not a universal anthropological fact, but a result of the development of occidental cultures and societies. Long since a great number of groups and individuals have been deeply affected by this development in which the establishment of a scientific world view and methodical thinking played a major role. Their historical consciousness is modern since it refers to a radically temporalized and dynamic world and since it ties partial representations of this world to (implicit) criteria of validity. Moreover it is closely connected with the possibility of self-critical reflections which are grounded in the historically mediated encounter with strangers. After a concise overview of the important questions and the state of the art in different disciplines, selected results of a broader qualitative-empirical study are presented. In the group discussions which were carried out with young people—only results from a discussion with thirteen to fourteen year old grammar-school pupils (Gymnasiasten) are presented here—the analysis revealed clear indicators of a specifically modern historical consciousness. Looked at closely this consciousness is committed in a surprisingly high degree to scientific-methodical standards of rationality. One may welcome this as a successful implementation of a life form oriented towards rationality into young people's everyday life or deplore it as a symptom of the distortion of pragmatic orientations for activity and living by scientific standards: first of all it is a fact that the commitment to tie the reconstruction of past realities, historical events and contexts to an operation of knowledge which is intersubjectively transparent and rationally justified and to reflect this is strongly developed in the young persons we analysed. Their thinking proves to be specifically "modern" also in other respects. In addition to the description of the historical knowledge in content and the historical interests of the young people, this finding is described in detail. Finally it is discussed to which degree the central finding can be applied against the widespread lamentation of an alleged poor historical consciousness of pupils. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs010397


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Author Biographies

Carlos Kölbl, Universität Bayreuth

Dipl.-Psych. Carlos KÖLBL (http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/impressum/koelbl-e.htm) is a research assistant with the inter-disciplinary research group "'Life-forms" (Lebensformen) in conflict. Identity and morality under the pressure of social disintegration" in the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen/Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. He is also scientific employee in the "Studium fundamentale" at the University of Witten/Herdecke and lecturer for methodology at the University GH Essen. Main areas of research: Developmental, social and cultural psychology; psychology of historical consciousness; action theory; qualitative social research; sociohistorical school; currently working on a doctoral thesis on the development of historical consciousness in young people.

Jürgen Straub, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Prof. Dr. Jürgen STRAUB (http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/beirat/straub-e.htm) is board member of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Instiut Essen/Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and head (together with PD Dr. Burkhard LIEBSCH) of the inter-disciplinary study group "'Life-forms" (Lebensformen) in conflict. Identity and morality under the pressure of social disintegration" also in Essen. During the 2001/02 winter semester he is standing in for a professorship for micro-sociology at the University of Gießen. He teaches at the Institute for Psychology at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and is research professor and lecturer in the "Studium fundamentale" at the University of Witten/Herdecke. Main areas of research: Philosophical foundations and theoretical systems of psychology; social and cultural psychology, cross-cultural psychology; time diagnoses from the point of view of sociology and social psychology; conflict, force and communication in modern societies; psycho-social consequences of the Shoah; identity theory; action theory; theory of memory; narrative psychology; biographical research; psychology of historical consciousness; theory, methodology and methods of interpretative research.



How to Cite

Kölbl, C., & Straub, J. (2001). Historical Consciousness in Youth. Theoretical and Exemplary Empirical Analyses. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2(3). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-2.3.904

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