Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Terrie Epstein

Committee Members

Debbie Sonu

David Gerwin

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Curriculum and Instruction | Junior High, Intermediate, Middle School Education and Teaching | Other Teacher Education and Professional Development | Secondary Education


culturally relevant pedagogy, historical literacy, social studies, urban education, secondary education, culture


What occurs when teachers in urban social studies classrooms want to do their best by incorporating culturally relevant pedagogy into their historical literacy instruction? While culturally relevant pedagogy and historical literacy are complementary in theory and a few scholars have demonstrated how teachers have integrated the two approaches in practice, I questioned the ease or seamlessness of the integration within an urban context. This dissertation examined how three teachers in an urban high school managed the tensions and possibilities of teaching historical literacy and culturally relevant pedagogy in U.S. and global history classes. In this case study, I explored how each teacher’s lived experiences affected their conceptions and enactments of historical literacy and culturally relevant pedagogy, and its effects on student perceptions of instruction and their academic achievement.

In recent years, educators have promoted teaching social studies and other subjects using culturally relevant pedagogy as a means to promote the academic achievement, cultural competence and sociopolitical consciousness of urban youth of color. In addition, many states have enacted Common Core Learning Standards that in the case of history, require students to develop historical literacy skills or the ability to interpret primary and secondary historical sources and make historical claims or arguments based on evidence from the sources. In theory, culturally relevant teaching and instruction in historical literacy can be seen as complementary. Teachers can instruct students to interpret evidence and make claims by employing historical texts and stimulating historical discussions that use counter-narratives to connect students’ cultures and experiences to historical events and develop young people’s political consciousness. However given the contemporary contexts of schooling in urban spaces, I found that teachers faced challenges in trying to integrate both approaches.

Findings suggest teachers are cultural beings whose lived experiences influenced their perception of students and approaches to instruction. The two teachers of color in the study broadened the purpose of historical literacy instruction as a means to build positive student academic identity and self-empowerment. They also exhibited a social justice orientation towards history and offered alternative ways of knowing and doing history that questioned the historical literacy research stance on what counts as evidence and contextualization. All three teachers struggled with the systematic integration of historical literacy instruction and culturally relevant pedagogy. Overall when attending to the context and academic needs of students, the teachers focused mostly on providing students with general literacy rather than historical literacy skills. Exploring the tensions teachers faced and the ways in which they resolved them provides knowledge of ways to manage the obstacles that teachers may encounter in attempting to integrate the two approaches in the teaching of history to students of color in urban spaces.