“What I saw” and “What he saw”:
an analysis of students' written accounts in first and third person empathy task
Empathy tasks, which invite students to identify with historical actors or describe their perspectives, are a common phenomenon in history education. The aim of this study is to explore the differences in students’ answers when completing an empathy task asking for an account written in first person (“imagine you are in the past”) or in third person (“imagine someone in the past”), or a task in which no empathy at all is asked. Students in Dutch secondary education (N = 254) participated by completing a task on the Dutch Iconoclasm. Our analysis of student answers focused on aspects of historical empathy: historical contextualization, affective elements and perspective taking.We found that both empathy tasks stimulated students to include concrete details and emotions of historical actors. The texts of students who were not asked to empathize included more multiple perspectives. Students who completed the empathy task in first person, showed more presentism and moral judgements of the past than students who completed a task in third person.