History is not for nerds

By October 16, 2012News

Talking about History

The next seminar of the 2012 series of Applied Linguistics seminars at Macquarie University will be held on Tuesday, October 23:

History is not for nerds: The role of analogy and simile in history lectures

When: Tue 23/10, 1:00-2:00pm; WhereW5C 221

Presenter: Jean Brick, Macquarie University

Abstract: The importance of metaphor in academic discourse is widely acknowledged (Cameron, 2003; Semino, 2008). Far less attention, however, has been paid to the role of simile and analogy, especially in pedagogically oriented genres such as lectures in introductory subjects, which are typically taken in the first year of undergraduate study. Lectures in such subjects face specific challenges. They need not only to deliver disciplinary content and initiate students into the disciplinary discourse (Bhatia, 2001) but also to enhance students’ sense of engagement and interest, something often lacking when students have little previous experience of a subject. Lectures in introductory units are often therefore  the site of two complementary discourses, that of the discipline and that of learning. Lectures need to position their students in ways which enhance both their understanding of the discipline and their interest and involvement with it.

The role of simile and analogy in developing understanding by comparing new and unfamiliar concepts with more familiar and usually more concrete events and ideas is well established. (Gentner & Jeziorski, 1993).  Their possible role in enhancing learner interest and involvement is far less explored. The present study reports on the use of simile and analogy in a corpus of  introductory lectures in world history. It uses Positioning Theory (Harré & van Langenhoven, 1999) to analyse the ways in which lecturers use analogy to develop students’ understanding of the discourse of history and simile to optimise their sense of engagement and agency.


Bhatia, Vijay K. (2001). A generic view of academic discourse. In J. Flowerdew (Ed.). Academic Discourse (21-39). London: Longman.

Cameron, Lynne (2003). Metaphor in educational discourse. London: Continuum Press.

Gentner, D. & Jeziorski, M. (1993). The shift from metaphor to analogy in Western science. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (342–356). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Harré, R. & van Langenhove, L. (1999). Positioning theory: moral contexts of intentional action. Malden, Mass: Blackwell.

Semino, E. (2008). Metaphor in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.