Senior cycle history: a syllabus of inquiry using insight and perspectives

Study principles revolve around evaluating multiple sources of historical evidence

The Leaving Cert history syllabus is based on the principle “that the study of history should be regarded as an exploration of what historians believe to have happened, based on an inquiry into the available evidence”.

History deals with the experience of human life in the past. The study of history involves an investigation of the surviving evidence relating to such experience. It brings the student of history into contact with human experiences, which are often very different from his/her own. The articles, sources and accounts contained in this supplement provide many stimulating opportunities for students to engage meaningfully with the Irish Civil War.

In brief, the Leaving Cert history syllabus is based on the principles that:

  • learning about the past involves a process of inquiry
  • the results of our inquiry will depend upon the available evidence
  • historical study needs to consider different interpretations of the evidence in an open-minded spirit of exploration

The articles in this supplement enable students to engage in the process of inquiry and explore the validity of different types of evidence, as well as considering the different perspectives adopted by historians. With a large number of schools across the country choosing to study the Modern Ireland Topic No 3 – "Sovereignty and Partition", direct links can easily be made by teachers for opportunities to use this supplement within their classrooms. For the purposes of this article, we will draw upon the practice of a multi-perspective approach as explained within the Leaving Cert history teacher guidelines and Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) supports.


The benefits of adopting a multi-perspective approach, as modelled in PDST history workshops and resources, are set out in the Leaving Cert history guidelines for teachers as follows:

Historical events

A multi-perspective approach can help students to grasp some of the key points that underlie the syllabus objectives, eg:

  • There is not necessarily one correct version of a particular historical event
  • The same historical event can be described and explained in different ways depending on the standpoint of (for example) the eye witness or historian
  • The same piece of evidence may be interpreted differently by different historians
  • Few historical sources of evidence can be deemed to be totally impartial, and that the context in which they were produced must always be taken into consideration

This supplement will support teachers with the teaching implications of using this approach. Teachers will need a range of sources that display different perspectives on the historical event under investigation. This supplement will help teachers build towards this. Teachers will also need to give students direction with regards to identifying similarities and differences within sources. There are opportunities for comparison across articles and sources in this supplement. If students are to understand particular viewpoints, they will need to be provided with a context ie where the authors of the sources are “coming from”; what their political, economic, social or cultural circumstances are, and so on.

Rounded picture

Finally, teachers will need to assist students in relating one perspective to another to create a more rounded and complete picture. Additionally, this approach will result in the development of analytical skills and a way of thinking historically that is always conscious of alternative viewpoints. Students will develop a sense of historical empathy as a result of the multi-perspective approach. This will result in students being able to “look at a contentious or controversial issue from more than one point of view” (Syllabus, page 4), a key objective of the Leaving Cert history syllabus.

In following a multi-perspective approach, students should be encouraged to critically evaluate, for example, the articles and sources within this supplement, their textbooks and other classroom resources. In doing so, it might be useful to address such questions as:

  • Is it possible to identify the author's own perspective on this topic? Explain what their perspective is? What are the clues or references that enable us to do so?
  • Are there any missing perspectives here that make it difficult to form a rounded version of the events? Explain what these missing perspectives are.
  • Is any bias on the part of the author evident (eg in her/his commentary, in the selection of perspectives or evidence)? Give examples.

Similar questions could also be used in evaluating the content of other sources such as documentaries, magazine/journal articles and other such media.

Eimear Jenkinson and Cormac Davey are advisers at the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST). The PDST history team provides workshops and school support for history teachers on a national level.