How history is learnt and taught must to some extent be shaped by conceptions of what history is. Historians tend to conceptualize what something is by investigating what it has been and what it has meant in different contexts. This article explains how a debate in the philosophy of history between positivism and intentionalism provided the context for history to be defined as a distinct school subject. It traces the epistemological underpinnings of history pedagogy over the past century, illuminating the close relationship between attempts in the philosophy of history to defend history’s disciplinary autonomy and the formulation of a disciplinary model of school history education. Eschewing a one-way account from the philosophy of history to the school history classroom, it attributes the interest of leading history educationalists to use philosophical analyses of history to an educational paradigm eager to distil the disciplinary essence of the school subjects. At the interface of academic history, school history and the philosophy of history, it describes a process whereby these separate threads became part of a common fabric, shaping conceptions of what it means and what it takes to be educated in history.