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What is history about?

History examines the past to understand the present.

The history curriculum: What has changed?

Senior history is part of the wider curriculum

It reflects the vision, principles, key competencies, and values described on pages 8–13 of The New Zealand Curriculum.

History is part of the learning area of social sciences

It has its own achievement objectives in The New Zealand Curriculum. The achievement objectives inform teaching, learning, assessment, and programme design – all contexts taught need to relate to them. There are no prescribed topics.

Why are we learning this?

Teachers and students need to see the relevance of the teaching and learning programme. Teachers may choose to invite their students’ input when choosing learning contexts that have significance to New Zealanders and, most immediately, to the students in the history class.

New Zealand history is seen within wider global contexts

Where possible, history encompasses events occurring within New Zealand and/or global events involving or influencing New Zealanders. Historical scholarship encourages students to look for points of connection and intersection and for similarities and differences, and to focus on research that transcends the boundaries of nation states.

History places more emphasis on thinking critically

Students are encouraged to question accepted interpretations of the past and to consider contesting theories of historians and commentators. This emphasis reflects contemporary historical scholarship.

There is also a more holistic approach to understanding concepts of identity.


Why study history?

History fires students’ curiosity and imagination

It invites them to ask, and helps them answer, today’s questions by engaging with the past and imagining and speculating on possible futures.

History presents students with the dilemmas, choices, and beliefs of people in the past.

It connects students with the wider world as they develop their own identities and sense of place. Students engage with history at personal, local and international levels. They investigate the histories of their communities, New Zealand, and the wider world.

History is a research-led discipline

History encourages an informed understanding of the origins of our diverse society in Aotearoa New Zealand. Central to this understanding is an awareness of the history of the Treaty of Waitangi and of the Treaty’s principles, values, and ongoing relevance.

An awareness of history inspires students to become confident, questioning, and empathetic individuals.

History is dynamic and exciting

As students develop their understanding of the nature of historical inquiry, they employ a robust methodology. They learn to ask and answer important questions, evaluate evidence, identify and analyse different interpretations of the past, and substantiate the arguments and judgments they make. Students can see why they are learning and what they are learning, and they can debate the significance of the history that they learn.

History prepares students for the future

It equips them with knowledge and skills that are valuable and useful throughout life. These include research techniques, the skills needed to process and synthesise varied and often complex materials, the skills needed to give clear and effective oral and written presentations, and the ability to articulate ideas and make them clear to others.

With these skills, students enhance their employability and are able to participate actively and critically in their societies. For more history-related career information see:

 Key concepts

At the heart of every subject are certain concepts or big ideas. These are the ideas and understandings that the teacher hopes will remain with students long after they have left school and much of the detail has been forgotten. Key concepts sit above context but find their way into every context.

Students need time and opportunity to explore these concepts, to appreciate the breadth, depth, and subtlety of meaning that attaches to them, to learn that different people view them from different perspectives, and to understand that meaning is not static. By approaching these concepts in different ways and by revisiting them in different contexts within a relatively short time span, students come to refine and embed understandings.

For further information, see Approaches to building conceptual understandings at Social sciences online.

The key concepts or big ideas in history

Authentic understanding in history comes from developing a grasp of the key concepts and underlying key historical events, themes, and issues.


Historians weigh the importance, durability, and relevance of events, themes, and issues in the past and the appropriateness of using the past to provide contemporary lessons; historians debate what is historically significant and how and why the decisions about what is significant change.

Continuity and change

History examines change over time and continuity in times of change. Historians use chronology to place these developments in context. Historians debate what has changed, what has remained the same, and the impact of these changes.

Cause and effect

Historians investigate the reasons for and results of events in history; they debate the causes of past events, the effects, and how these events affect people's lives and communities. Historians study relationships between events to identify pervasive themes, ideas, and movements, such as terrorism, revolution, and migration.


There are multiple perspectives on the past (both at the time and subsequently). Interpretations of the past are contested – historians base their arguments on historical evidence and draw from a range of perspectives.

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