This paper analyses the concept of civilization as it is constructed in anthropology and history, and uses the various dimensions so defined as a frame to understand how children grasp and make active use of the concepts in their interpretation of historical information. School fosters a notion of progress developing through different socio-historical forms which are understood as steps of a unique process. Such super ordinate schemata of school history can preclude an understanding of ‘otherness’ deliberately situated within the other’s perspective. The study investigates nine-year-old children’s understanding and use of the notion of civilisation in the context of a historical task at school. Children were given a simplified version of a historical description of the Huns and were asked to take a stance about the Roman author’s pejorative judgement of the Huns. Our analysis draws on the audio recordings of the small group and class group discussions. Data show the children’s initial stereotyping reactions, but also how in the unfolding of the discussion the concepts were refined and became more articulated; children gained a capacity for relativism and perspective change. The class discussion even dealt with the criteria for historical judgement.