This thesis discusses ways in which history of physics can be usefulin physics education. Examples are mainly chosen from the field ofelectromagnetism.
The first chapter deals with objections against the use of history inphysics teaching. The strongest objections come from critics who haveargued that history when used for such purposes needs must betendentiously written. Others have feared that historical approachesmight reduce the effectiveness of physics education. While some of thereservations against using history are very well-founded and somewarnings must be heeded, the arguments were generally not found to becompelling.
The second chapter discusses an array of applications of history forphysics teaching. History may illustrate lessons on social andideological contexts for science, and on the nature ofphysics. Studying the historical development of physical concepts mayprovide the teacher with insights about problems students may havewith learning the same concepts. Many historical experiments havepedagogical advantages---among them the greater transparency of thetechnology they rely on.
The third, and longest, chapter is concerned with the pluralisticcharacter of physics, and with the nature of understanding. The degreeof interpretive freedom in physics is discussed, and the notion ofpluralism in physics is clarified. The next issue is what`understanding', and in particular what `understanding physics' can betaken to be, and a lengthy detour into hermeneutics is includedhere. Hermeneutics as a theory of interpretation and understandingquestions the subject/object cut and addresses issues ofintelligibility, meaning and significance. The main point of thisthird chapter as a whole is the claim that understanding physics wellinvolves knowing a plurality of accounts of physical phenomena---andthat historical studies can provide such plurality of perspectives.
The fourth and final chapter reports results of a limited focus groupstudy. Three groups of university undergraduates were questioned abouttheir ideas about history in physics courses, and about some basicconcepts of electromagnetism. While the study is too limited to permitstrong conclusions to be drawn, some hypotheses emerge. One is thatstudents' electromagnetic concepts are weakly linked with simplephysical phenomena of a kind that were central in the early stages ofexperimental electromagnetic research. Students' notions appear to bemainly grounded in theory.
The major conclusion, which emerges from the chapter on pluralism andunderstanding, is that history of physics, judiciously applied, canenhance students' interest in and understanding of physics, andperhaps also strengthen a sense of personal relevance of that scienceto the learners.