A new competency-model on monuments using Rüsen’s four types by Stéphane Levesque — and a comment

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Kör­ber, Andreas (2018): “A new com­pe­ten­cy-mod­el on mon­u­ments using Rüsen’s four types by Stéphane Levesque — and a com­ment.” In: His­torisch denken ler­nen (14.10.2018):

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In a recent con­tri­bu­tion to Pub­lic His­to­ry Week­ly, titled “Remov­ing the ‘Past’: Debates Over Offi­cial Sites of Mem­o­ry“1Stéphane Lévesque from Ottawa, Cana­da, pre­sent­ed a new mod­el for mon­u­ment-relat­ed com­pe­ten­cies of his­tor­i­cal think­ing, using Jörn Rüsen’s types of his­tor­i­cal nar­rat­ing.

The graph­ic ver­sion of the mod­el con­sists of four “com­pe­tences”, visu­al­ized as small­er cog­wheels arranged around and inter­act­ing with a cen­tral cog­wheel titled with “his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness”. For each of the four com­pe­ten­cies, a short, mon­u­ment-relat­ed def­i­n­i­tion is giv­en.

Prompt­ed by a com­men­tary by Gabriel Reich of Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ty, who also works exten­sive­ly on mon­u­ments in mem­o­ry cul­ture, Stéphane Lévesque added a (more gen­er­al) table ver­sion (a Span­ish trans­la­tion by Eliz­a­beth Mon­tanares Var­gas has been pre­sent­ed on face­book, mean­while) in an answer­ing com­ment, fur­ther detail­ing the com­pe­ten­cies in his mod­el.2.

As much as I appre­ci­ate this new mod­el of com­pe­ten­cies in gen­er­al, I have also added a few com­ments to it (and to one point of Gabriel Reich’s com­ment, which is not in focus, here). The space pro­vid­ed by Pub­lic his­to­ry week­ly for com­ment­ing is lim­it­ed and graphs are (at least not eas­i­ly) allowed. I there­fore use this my own blog for repeat­ing my com­ment to Lévesque’s mod­el, and to detail it a bit fur­ther.

First of all, I strong­ly sup­port the ini­tia­tive to analyse mon­u­ments as an expres­sion of and fac­tor for his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness. Indeed, we need both a) to analyse them as experts by using our reper­toire of his­to­ri­o­graph­ic meth­ods and con­cepts in order to stim­u­late and sup­port informed pub­lic dis­cus­sion about whether a par­tic­u­lar mon­u­ment is still desir­able (or at least accept­able) or whether it needs to be changed (and how) or even removed, and b) to devel­op people’s com­pe­tences to address these issues them­selves, i.e. to reflect on the nature, mean­ing and mes­sage of a mon­u­ment both at the time of its con­struc­tion and today (e.g. through preser­va­tion, main­te­nance, alter­ation, com­ment­ing or removal).

For this rea­son, I great­ly appre­ci­ate Stéphane’s pro­pos­al for a com­pe­ten­cy mod­el, espe­cial­ly the table ver­sion from the com­men­tary above. This does not mean that I ful­ly sup­port the con­crete mod­el, but it has enriched the debate. Three com­ments on this:

(1) I doubt that com­pe­tence as such can be “tra­di­tion­al”, “exem­plary”, “genet­ic”, “crit­i­cal” or “genet­ic”. These pat­terns, both as I under­stand Rüsen and for myself, char­ac­ter­ize the log­ic of nar­ra­tives. I would there­fore rather read the table as “the com­pe­tence to query in the tra­di­tion­al mode” … “the com­pe­tence to nar­rate in crit­i­cal mode” etc.

(2) This again rais­es the ques­tion of whether the four pat­terns actu­al­ly con­sti­tute a dis­tinc­tion of com­pe­tence niveaus. While I agree that the genet­ic mode of nar­rat­ing his­to­ry is the his­tor­i­cal­ly most recent, com­plex and suit­able for explain­ing changes, I doubt – this time against Rüsen (cf. Kör­ber 2016) – that the typol­o­gy can describe com­pe­tence lev­els.
The com­pe­tence pro­gres­sion would need to be defined trans­ver­sal­ly: From (a) a basic lev­el of non-dis­tinc­tive (and thus uncon­scious­ly con­fus­ing) forms and pat­terns, via (b) the abil­i­ty to per­form all these forms of oper­a­tions in the var­i­ous pat­terns of Stéphane’s table (which would this describe a ful­ly devel­oped inter­me­di­ate lev­el), to © an elab­o­rat­ed lev­el of (addi­tion­al) abil­i­ty to think about the nature of these disc­tions, etc.

For this, the mod­el is very use­ful, full of ideas. It can help to think about what it takes to describe mon­u­ments nei­ther as “the past” nor as “sim­ply old”, but to iden­ti­fy and “read” them as nar­ra­tives (or nar­ra­tive abbre­vi­a­tions) from a cer­tain time, whose cur­rent treat­ment adds new nar­ra­tive lay­ers to them, so that their exis­tence (or absence), form, and treat­ment of them can always be seen and eval­u­at­ed as con­tem­po­rary state­ments about the respec­tive past. To rec­og­nize this and to deal with it in a social­ly respon­si­ble way requires these com­pe­tences.

As far as Gabriel Reich’s com­men­tary is con­cerned, I only ask whether his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of an atti­tude to the con­fed­er­a­tion mon­u­ments can real­ly be addressed with Rüsen as “exem­plary”, since this mode is not con­cerned with the main­te­nance and sup­port of a con­ven­tion­al iden­ti­ty, but with the deriva­tion of a supertem­po­ral rule. I would refer to the exam­ple as “tra­di­tion­al”. An “exem­plary” atti­tude towards reten­tion would be more like­ly to be: “At all times, mon­u­ments of one’s own heroes have helped the losers of war to hold on to their cause. Then that must be pos­si­ble for us too.” Or some­thing along that line.

So far the com­ment already pub­lished in Pub­lic His­to­ry Week­ly.

That said, I might add, that I don’t mean that the “genet­ic” way of sense­mak­ing is not in some way supe­ri­or to the oth­ers, and more apt for his­tor­i­cal mean­ing-mak­ing, espe­cial­ly in its inte­gra­tion of a notion of direct­ed change over time. My scep­ti­cism focus­es on the idea that today’s people’s (“onto­ge­net­ic”) com­pe­ten­cies of his­tor­i­cal think­ing pro­gress­es along the same line as the cul­tur­al (“phy­lo­ge­net­ic”) devel­opo­ment of Rüsen’s pat­terns of sense­mak­ing through­out the his­to­ry of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy. Today’s youth simul­ta­ne­ous­ly encounter man­i­fes­ta­tions of his­tor­i­cal think­ing using all three (rather than four)3 pat­terns of sense­mak­ing. While there is a kind of “devel­op­ment” of pow­er of his­tor­i­cal mean­ing-mak­ing and expla­na­tion from tra­di­tion­al via exem­plar­ic to genet­ic, I doubt that peo­ple and stu­dents have to move from the for­mer to the lat­ter — or do so.

My own idea of devel­op­ment of com­pe­ten­cies of his­tor­i­cal think­ing can rather be visu­al­ized as fol­lows (adopt­ing Lévesque’s table):

Three niveaus/levels of competencies (schematic), following the FUER-model (cf. Körber 2015). The graph uses the table-version of Stéphane Lévesque's competence-model for historical thinking on monuments (https://public-history-weekly.degruyter.com/6-2018-29/removing-past-official-memory/; courtesy of Stéphane Lévesque by e-mail Oct 15th, 2018). A.K. 2018
Three niveaus/levels of com­pe­ten­cies (schemat­ic), fol­low­ing the FUER-mod­el (cf. Kör­ber et al. 2007; Kör­ber 2015)4. The graph uses the table-ver­sion of Stéphane Lévesque’s com­pe­tence-mod­el for his­tor­i­cal think­ing on mon­u­ments (https://public-history-weekly.degruyter.com/6–2018-29/removing-past-official-memory/; cour­tesy of Stéphane Lévesque by e‑mail Oct 15th, 2018). A.K. 2018


  1. A “basic” niveau (and pos­si­bly ear­ly stage) would be defined by the inabil­i­ty of dis­tin­guish­ing dif­fer­ent modes of his­tor­i­cal nar­rat­ing in gen­er­al and refer­ring to mon­u­ments in this spe­cif­ic case. (Young) peo­ple on this niveau (at this stage) will relate to them. They will ask ques­tions (and thus exer­cise their “inquiry com­pe­tence”), think (“his­tor­i­cal think­ing com­pe­tence”), ori­en­tate them­selves (“ori­en­ta­tion com­pe­tence”), and nar­rate (“nar­ra­tive com­pe­tence”). But this basic niveau will not be defined by being “tra­di­tion­al”, but by an unin­formed mix­ing (pos­si­bly only half-under­stood) forms of all three pat­terns. This per­for­mance will be both insta­ble and incon­sis­tent. Half-baked tra­di­tion­al ques­tions will stand next to unre­flect­ed exem­plary state­ments, and so on. In the graph above, this is sym­bol­ized by the blurred table below.
  2. The abil­i­ty to apply the dif­fer­ent pat­terns in a some­what clar­i­fied way, to dis­tin­guish them and select one, to iden­ti­fy incon­sis­ten­cies in their mix­ing, etc., then marks the inter­me­di­ary niveau, and pos­si­ble a major stage in the devel­op­ment of these com­pe­ten­cies. On this niveau, at this stage, peo­ple will be able to dis­cuss about the mes­sage a mon­u­ment express­es and the mean­ing it has for us today, but they might dis­agree and even quar­rel because they apply dif­fer­ent pat­terns of mean­ing-mak­ing.
    In a way, Lévesque’s table describes this inter­me­di­ate niveau, the dif­fer­ent forms of his­tor­i­cal inquir­ing, think­ing, ori­en­tat­ing, and nar­rat­ing can take, depend­ing from the gen­er­al pat­tern of sense­mak­ing. The table (the mid­dle one in the graph above) clear­ly points at some­thing, I have also tried to express in my Ger­man arti­cle chal­leng­ing Rüsen’s own idea of the dif­fer­ent pat­terns form­ing dif­fer­ent nivueaus of com­pe­ten­cies5: Each of the dif­fer­ent oper­a­tions (inquir­ing, nar­rat­ing, ori­en­tat­ing) will take on a spe­cif­ic stance of nar­rat­ing. It is a dif­fer­ence whether I ask for a tra­di­tion or for a rule to be derived from past exam­ples, or about a pat­terns of change across time. These ques­tions are informed by more gen­er­al stances and under­stand­ings of his­to­ry (maybe cod­ed in Lévesque’s cen­tral cog­wheel of “his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness”) and will gen­er­ate dif­fer­ent forms of ori­en­ta­tion and nar­rat­ing. This does not mean that the ini­tial stance deter­mines the out­come of the sto­ry, ren­der­ing his­tor­i­cal think­ing a mat­ter of self-affir­ma­tion — not at all. A per­son inquir­ing in tra­di­tion­al will look for an ori­gin for some­thing valid and might — via his­tor­i­cal think­ing and research — learn of a quite dif­fer­ent ori­gin. The mode of mean­ing-mak­ing will still be tra­di­tion­al, but the con­crete his­to­ry will have changed. But peo­ple might also be forced to change their pat­tern in the process, e.g. learn­ing of the lim­its of exem­plary think­ing when gain­ing insight into fun­da­men­tal change, and thus “progress” in a way from exem­plary to genet­ic sense­mak­ing.
  3. The high­est niveau, how­ev­er, will be reached not by final­ly arriv­ing at the genet­ic forms of think­ing and the respec­tive com­pe­ten­cies, but by com­ple­ment­ing the abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize, dis­tin­guish and apply the dif­fer­ent for­ma with a trans­gress­ing abil­i­ty to reflect on the nature, val­ue and lim­its of this (and oth­er) typolo­gies them­selves. Only on this niveau (at this stage) are peo­ple ful­ly at com­mand of their his­tor­i­cal reflec­tion. They can address the lim­its soci­etal­ly accept­ed con­cepts and ter­mi­nol­o­gy pose and sug­gest new or amend­ed ones, etc. In the graph above, this is sym­bol­ized by the addi­tion­al focus to the rubrics of Lévesque’s table, marked by the blue rings.
  1.   Lévesque, Stéphane: Remov­ing the “Past”: Debates Over Offi­cial Sites of Mem­o­ry. In: Pub­lic His­to­ry Week­ly 6 (2018) 29, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2018–12570. There also is a Ger­man and a French ver­sion. []
  2. The table can be found under the same address as the orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion, down the page []
  3. Rüsen’s “crit­i­cal” type of nar­rat­ing does not real­ly fit into the typol­o­gy, pre­sent­ing not a new log­ic of inter­con­nect­ing tem­po­ral infor­ma­tion, but mere­ly de-elgitimiz­ing oth­ers. In 1988 already, Bodo von Bor­ries com­ment­ed on this and pre­sent­ed a graph­i­cal con­cept of the inter­re­la­tion of the dif­fer­ent types, in which a “crit­i­cal” type was placed between both the tra­di­tion­al and the exem­plary and the lat­ter and the genet­ic, thus assign­ing it the func­tion of a cat­a­lyst of devel­op­ment (Bor­ries, Bodo von (1988): Geschicht­sler­nen und Geschichts­be­wusst­sein. Empirische Erkun­dun­gen zu Erwerb und Gebrauch von His­to­rie. 1. Aufl. Stuttgart: Klett, p. 61; cf.  Kör­ber, Andreas (2015): His­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, his­tor­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies – and beyond? Some con­cep­tu­al devel­op­ment with­in Ger­man his­to­ry didac­tics. Online ver­füg­bar unter http://www.pedocs.de/volltexte/2015/10811/pdf/Koerber_2015_Development_German_History_Didactics.pdf, p. 14f.). In the new ver­sion of his “His­torik”, Rüsen presents a sim­i­lar ver­sion. Cf. Rüsen, Jörn (2013): His­torik. The­o­rie der Geschichtswis­senschaft. Köln: Böh­lau, p. 260. Eng­lish: Rüsen, Jörn (2017): Evi­dence and Mean­ing. A The­o­ry of His­tor­i­cal Stud­ies. Unter Mitar­beit von Diane Kerns und Katie Digan. New York, NY: Berghahn Books Incor­po­rat­ed (Mak­ing Sense of His­to­ry Ser, v.28), p. 198. []
  4.  Schreiber, Wal­traud; Kör­ber, Andreas; Bor­ries, Bodo von; Kram­mer, Rein­hard; Leut­ner-Ramme, Sibyl­la; Mebus, Sylvia et al. (2007): His­torisches Denken. Ein Kom­pe­tenz-Struk­tur­mod­ell (Basis­beitrag). In: Andreas Kör­ber, Wal­traud Schreiber und Alexan­der Schön­er (Hg.): Kom­pe­ten­zen his­torischen Denkens. Ein Struk­tur­mod­ell als Beitrag zur Kom­pe­ten­zori­en­tierung in der Geschichts­di­dak­tik. Neuried: Ars Una Ver­lags-Gesellschaft (Kom­pe­ten­zen, 2), S. 17–53; Kör­ber, Andreas (2012): Graduierung his­torisch­er Kom­pe­ten­zen. In: Michele Bar­ri­cel­li und Mar­tin Lücke (Hg.): Hand­buch Prax­is des Geschicht­sun­ter­richts. His­torisches Ler­nen in der Schule, Bd. 1. Schwalbach/Ts.: Wochen­schau Ver­lag (Wochen­schau Geschichte), S. 236–254.; Kör­ber, Andreas (2015): His­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, his­tor­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies – and beyond? Some con­cep­tu­al devel­op­ment with­in Ger­man his­to­ry didac­tics. Online ver­füg­bar unter http://www.pedocs.de/volltexte/2015/10811/pdf/Koerber_2015_Development_German_History_Didactics.pdf, pp. 39ff []
  5.  Kör­ber, Andreas (2016): Sinnbil­dungstypen als Graduierun­gen? Ver­such ein­er Klärung am Beispiel der His­torischen Fragekom­pe­tenz. In: Kat­ja Lehmann, Michael Wern­er und Ste­fanie Zabold (Hg.): His­torisches Denken jet­zt und in Zukun­ft. Wege zu einem the­o­retisch fundierten und evi­denzbasierten Umgang mit Geschichte. Festschrift für Wal­traud Schreiber zum 60. Geburt­stag. Berlin, Mün­ster: Lit Ver­lag (Geschichts­di­dak­tik in Ver­gan­gen­heit und Gegen­wart, 10), S. 27–41. []