Fulbright Scholar Impacting History Education through Research with GSE Faculty

Mikko Kainulainen is a Finnish doctoral candidate who is on a six-month Fulbright grant here at the GSE. He is currently conducting research surrounding historians and their practices. He is working in collaboration with Interim Dean Clark Chinn and Marjaana Puurtinen from his home institution, the University of Turku in Finland. “Our collaboration with Clark started in 2016, and the idea for the grant started a year later. In the summer of 2017, we visited a history conference in Denmark, and then spent two weeks in Finland, first working together in Turku, and then visiting the EARLI conference in Tampere. During this time we thought it would be a good idea to apply for a Fulbright grant for me to come to the US to continue the work that we had begun more closely, and now here I am.” Kainulainen elaborates, “I was fortunate since I had already established that relationship with Clark prior to applying.”

Kainulainen’s background is originally in teacher education. He completed master’s degrees at The University of Turku in Finland and Universität Regensburg in Germany. These studies involved a research-focused combination into topics of educational systems and learning research. “During that time I was studying history as a minor and was planning to do a master’s thesis on conceptual change in history. In the teacher education dept at Turku, there’s a focus on math education, so I got to be part of Professor Erno Lehtinen’s project on rational number learning and ended up doing my master’s thesis in that topic, also using conceptual change theory,” Kainulainen states. “Currently I am working with a scholarship from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation but until last year I was employed at the University of Turku. In addition to doing research, I was teaching qualitative research methods in the same program that I participated in, but now I am more focused on this research project.”

“The study I am working on with Clark Chinn and Marjaana Puurtinen aims to investigate historians and their epistemic practices. So, we are looking at a series of questions: what do historians aim to do with their work? What kind of products do they aim to put out? Is it knowledge, creating better understandings, countering previous understandings or models of thinking or theories or to produce new theories? Why do they aim at such goals? What kind of ideas or standards or criteria do they use to measure good work in history and whether these aims have been achieved? What are the processes used to produce these works? Clark and his colleagues have developed a model for epistemic cognition called the AIR model, which is really useful for our investigations into these issues,” says Kainulainen.

Kainulainen goes on further to explain their reasoning. “The underlying reason to perform this kind of research in educational sciences is that while history education in the past has focused primarily on memorizing dates, certain narratives, figures, facts, and so on, the recent trend has been to move toward promoting different things like critical thinking and incorporating simulations of actual historians’ activities into the classrooms. It does not mean making every child a historian but promoting awareness of the different tools and methods they can use in their lives to investigate issues and evaluate knowledge. It also gives them a sense of how those products that they are studying are produced.”

There is some research in cognitive science and psychology that looks at how historians read documents or how they make interpretations from documents, but how history is done is a much broader process. It involves a setting of aims, deciding on what research topics to investigate, what archives they use, how to use those archives, and writing and editing texts. Many of these processes are social. Digital technologies have also changed many historians’ practices and seeing how they handle this is also part of this project.

When envisioning the impact of this research, Kainulainen shares, “the main impact would be in history education. Eventually, we want to create new methods of instruction for history education. There are some hopes for the theoretical and philosophical sides of this as well. Many philosophers and theorists of history are interested in how knowledge about the past is constructed, assembled, and presented. They have almost exclusively focused so far on published texts of historians, so we seek to provide a more practice-oriented and empirical perspective to how and why historians produce their work. In Finland, my work is part of  a network called Rethinking Historians’ Expertise. It is an interdisciplinary network including educational researchers, philosophers, and theorists of history. We are all interested in investigating expertise in history, and even though there has been good work done in the past, there is a lot that has not been looked at.”

As the end of his residency in the United States approaches, Kainulainen reflects on his time spent here thus far. “I really enjoy participating in the weekly reading seminar on epistemic education and the PRACCIS project meetings, organized by Clark and Dr. Ravit Golan Duncan. During these meetings we have done collaborative coding of data, developed future investigations, and critique each others’ ongoing work and other selected readings. My favourite discussions have been on reading the work of Bruno Latour. PRACCIS has been really valuable for me to learn more about argumentation and inquiry learning. The Brown Bag lectures have also been really nice and have allowed me to listen to some great talks. I especially liked one by Professor Shondel Nero on the use of vernacular Englishes in classrooms. I was fortunate to be able to audit a seminar here in the philosophy department by Ernest Sosa on epistemology and I found it to be very inspirational. As my work is focused on the knowledge practices of historians, epistemology is an important part of it. I was especially impressed by the philosophers’ frequent, adaptive, and dialectical use of various case examples during the seminar. There is so much happening in this geographical area with all of the universities around. So I have visited some talks at other institutions as well as visiting some of my family in North Carolina and Louisiana. In addition to Clark and all the colleagues here at the GSE, they have really helped to make this trip here meaningful and productive.”