What is actually true? Approaches to teaching conspiracy theories and alternative narratives in history lessons

Rikke Alberg Peters*, Hildegunn Juulsgaard Johannesen

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article presents an empirical study that examines the teaching of conspiracy theories as part of the lower secondary history curriculum in Denmark. We argue that this topic is highly relevant, especially when taught in relation to the use of history. Within this approach, answering questions about true and false is secondary to understanding how and why alternative narratives co-exist and, at times, conflict. By applying a qualitative action research approach involving two teachers who taught in three different classes, our aim was to obtain in-depth knowledge of what happens in the classroom when different teaching strategies are applied, as well as to determine whether and, if so, how students show signs of critical thinking and historical reflection. Our results show that, although they required extended contextual knowledge to practise source evaluation and historical reflection, the students were highly motivated and participated actively in discussions. Both teachers in the study used an open-ended dialogic and enquiry-based approach to prompt their students to investigate the theories for themselves and to draw their own conclusions. When teachers facilitate classroom discussions in an open-ended way, the complex existential aspects of the use of history are opened up and students are given the opportunity to explore the complexity of historical narratives. During the observations, we noted some high-level examples of historical reflection and contextualisation among the students. However, the teaching of conspiracy theories is not an easy task, and teachers face many ethical dilemmas when deciding which role to adopt. 2020

Translated title of the contributionHvad er egentlig sandt? : Tilgange til at undervise i konspirationsteorier og alternative forklaringer i historiefaget
Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Didactica Norden
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1-26
Publication statusPublished - 8. Dec 2020


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