Choices, choices … story or narrative, History or history?

I have just completed my PhD proposal, which uses narrative inquiry as the theoretical and methodological framework. One of the dilemmas I was faced with is when to use ‘narrative’ and when to use ‘story’. Another was trying to decide if my participants are history teachers or History teachers.

There’s a great deal of literature available and I found some useful pearls of wisdom on the topic, but it’s like having a baby with all and sundry advising on what you should and shouldn’t do. And of course the advice differs from person to person.

On the question of narrative vs. story, this is narrative inquiry after all, so I initially decided to use the word ‘narrative’ in my topic, talking about teachers’ narratives. But after a while, this started to feel too contrived.

As my objective is to listen to teachers’ personal accounts and experiences, ‘story’ felt like it should be centre and front. As my thinking has crystallised, I decided to follow the lead of Connelly and Clandinin who use ‘story’ as the phenomenon and ‘narrative’ as the inquiry. They explain, “People by nature lead storied lives and tell stories of those lives, whereas narrative researchers describe such lives, collect and tell stories of them, and write narratives of experience” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 2).

Other researchers such as Kramp (2004, p. 106) use the words ‘narrative’ and ‘story’ interchangeably. She explains that narrative is more formal and story more familiar terminology. The latter seems more fitting for my study.

Not everyone agrees with my choice and I’ve been cautioned to think about it by my supervisor. So this definitely needs more investigation as my thesis progresses but for now, for my proposal, story it is.

On the question of history teacher vs. History teacher, I took my lead from the South African Department of Education in their discussion about “the Social Sciences classroom” (Department of Basic Education, 2011, p. 9). They talk about “the aims of History” (p.10) and that the aim of History is to write “history in an organised way” (p.10). So I’ve decided to use the lowercase history to refer to a period in the past and the uppercase History when referring to the subject, as in Mathematics or Geography.

However, when it comes to history teachers or History teachers what role does history/History play? The former seems to be more common in the literature. For instance, Pettigrew speaks about history teachers in Teaching History (2010) but my supervisor writes about History teachers. My thinking goes that as the teachers are teaching about the past and not about the specific subject, therefore I will refer to them as history teachers, not History teachers.

So my decisions are made and only time will tell if they will stand the test of time. Do you agree with my choices? How do you arrive at yours?


Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2-14.

Department of Basic Education. (2011). National Curriculum Statement – Curriculum & Assessment Policy Statement Social Sciences Grades 7-9. Pretoria: Government Printing Works Retrieved from

Kramp, M. K. (2004). Exploring life and experience through narrative inquiryFoundations for research: Methods of inquiry in education and the social sciences. In K. deMarrais & S. D. Lapan (Series Eds.), (pp. 103-121): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from

Pettigrew, A. (2010). Limited lessons from the Holocaust? Critically considering the ‘anti-racist’ and citizenship potential. Teaching History: The secondary education journal of The Historical Association(141), 50-55.

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