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historical empathy, historical fiction, history education, Dorothy Sayers


Literary theorists have argued that literary reading fosters empathy, a claim that has substantial empirical support. In this study, I consider the more specific case of reading historical drama and its potential to foster historical empathy among secondary school students. Although several educational interventions for fostering historical empathy have been proposed, none have yet considered the potential of reading historical drama. I evaluate an intervention where students engaged with selected plays from Dorothy Sayers’s The Man Born to be King that depict the Nativity and Easter narratives. After the intervention, I find that these students, compared to students who did not engage with the plays, exhibited higher levels of various dimensions of historical empathy including cognitive empathy towards historical figures in those narratives, feeling more immersed in the historical narrative, and confidence in properly contextualizing the historical events in the narrative. The students who engaged with the play also gained more knowledge about the historical accounts depicted in the plays but did not exhibit more affective empathy with historical figures. Implications for history education are considered.

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EDRE Working Paper

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