Historical Thinking Skills | AHA (2022)

What Skills Should You Have When You Leave a History Class?

Chronological Thinking
Historical Comprehension
Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Historical Research Skills
Historical Issues: Analysis and Decision-Making

1. Chronological Thinking

Chronological thinking is at the heart of historical reasoning. Students should be able to distinguish between past, present, and future time. Students should be able to identify how events take place over time. Students should be able to use chronology in writing their own histories. Students should be able to interpret data presented in time lines. Students should be able to analyze patterns of historical duration or continuity as well as to recognize historical change. Finally, students should begin to understand how the periodization of history is culturally constructed. Europeans tend to see historical change and periodization as a gradual move toward modernity and divide history into the history of the Ancient World, the Medieval (or Middle) period, the Early Modern Period (we're no longer middle but we haven't gotten into modernity yet), the Modern Period, and the Contemporary Period (generally history in the post-World War II period). Moreover, our current system of dating events depends upon a Christian conception of time even though historians now believe Jesus was alive at the time A.D. begins. B.C. means "before Christ." AD means "Anno Domini," or after the birth of our lord. Historians now are more likely to name these two patterns of dating B.C.E. ("before the common era") and C.E. ("after the common era") to secularize periodization. Other civilizations, including the Nahuas, understood history quite differently and understood time in a more cyclical way. Their history and sense of time, too, was culturally constructed. Their notion of time contributed to the Mexica understanding of their history. The Toltecs, who dominated ancient Mexico from the city of Tula long before the Mexicas took power, worshipped Quetzalcoatl, an ancient god of the sky and wind. According to oral traditions, an ancient Toltec ruler, Topiltzin, became merged with the god. After a battle, Toplitzin/Quetzalcoatl left or was forced out of Tula. The Mexicas subsequently embraced Topiltzin/Quetzalcoatl to persuade others that they were the legitimate successors of the Toltecs, and they constructed a temple to the god in Tenochtitlan. Legend taught that Quetzalcoatl would return to reclaim his title. Adding to the legend, Quetzalcoatl was born in the year Ce Acatl one-Reed and left in the year one-Reed. This corresponded to fifty-two years, which would be one cycle in the Mexica calendar. According to sources, Cortés appeared in what would have been one-Reed in the Mexica calendar, hence the reason why Moctezuma might have assumed that Cortés was Topiltzin/Quetzalcoatl. This makes a good story, but there is no way to know if this story was constructed before or after the conquest. What is important to understand is how much our history and construction of time contribute to our understanding of ourselves and how this understanding shapes our actions in the present world. Other great civilizations had their own periodization, and even European historians argue with each other about how history should be divided up chronologically. As you do the assigned reading in the textbook, you should think about how its authors have organized historical eras. Can you think of different ways they might have ordered events? Many of your study questions are designed to stimulate chronological thinking and an understanding of how things changed over time.

(Video) Historical Thinking Skills | How to Analyze Historical Documents

2. Historical Comprehension

Historical comprehension involves reading creatively, so that you can imagine yourself in the roles of the men and women you study. It is difficult to believe today that Europeans were willing to take almost any action necessary in order to obtain cheaper pepper in 1492. To understand their motivations, you need to understand the historical context within which events like the "Age of Exploration" unfolded. While this may seem simple enough, the process of avoiding "present-day" thinking and understanding the context of an event involves many higher order thinking skills. In reading any historical passage, you should be able to identify who was involved in the action, what happened, where it happened, and what events led to the action, and what consequences or outcomes followed the action. A simple way of thinking about this process is to envision yourself engaging in an "into, through, and beyond" approach to history. You want to understand the factors that got you into an event, how the event transpired (the through), and what happened as a consequence of the event. In the Columbus example, there were multiple factors inducing him to sail across the ocean blue (but, yes, obtaining cheaper pepper was one of them). This would be the "into" part or the "context" of his action. The action involved several trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and some deadly and not so deadly cultural encounters. This would be the "through" part of understanding the action. The "beyond" or consequences of his action involved the transformation of the Americas, dramatic demographic or population transformations (high mortality rates and large migrations, some of it forced), the ruin of Africa, and the emerging hegemony of Europeans over global markets. This, in turn, would have long term impacts on the Ottoman Empire, India, China, and Southeast Asia as well.

Other historical comprehension skills involve being able to identify central questions in historical writing and to come to some conclusions about the purpose, perspective, or point of view from which they have been constructed. The project on the Conquest of Mexico is designed to develop this skill. Cortés saw a need to make himself the sole conqueror of the Mexicas, so there is little mention of any assistance in his letters. He crafted himself into the lone hero. Bernal Díaz del Castillo wanted to impress the Spaniards with the conqueror's accomplishments. He emphasized the difficulty of the conquest and how clever Cortés was in forging alliances with indigenous populations hostile to the Mexicas. He also recognized the role of Doña Marina, the Indian woman given to Cortés, who became his mistress and translator. He did not believe that Mexico could have been conquered without her, and, in general, viewed the conquest as a group effort. Nahuatl sources describing the Mexica version of the conquest also make Doña Marina much more central to the story than Cortés did. But they had an intention for making their argument, too: it was useful to tell the story of their great defeat as a heroic struggle that was lost only because of the treason of one of their own, a woman. When reading these various accounts of the conquest, you need to understand where these various perspectives have shaped interpretations of the same event. Historical comprehension also involves understanding the humanity (or sometimes lack of it) of main characters: what were their probable motives, hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses.

(Video) What is "historical thinking"? - Historian Jim Grossman in INT's ENLIGHTENMENT MINUTES.

Finally, historical comprehension involves using data presented in many different forms: maps, visual and numerical data, and visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and (c) folk, popular and classical music. Understanding geographical information will explain a lot about how the ancient world developed. This understanding will also help to contextualize history and the significance of many developments, like the railroads and steamships, which made it possible for Europeans to penetrate African and Chinese interiors in the nineteenth century. The fact that only around 300,000 slaves were brought to the United States in the eighteenth century, whereas more than 6,000,000 slaves were brought to Brazil in the same period leads one to compare the operation and effects of slavery in the two areas that could explain the difference.

3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Our society and educational system has taught you (and much of the world's population) that there is only one right answer or one right historical interpretation. This idea is reinforced by the use of textbooks, which tend to present history as a "succession of facts marching to a settled outcome." It is difficult to learn history without such books, but they, nonetheless, give a misleading sense of what history is and almost prevent the acquisition of historical thinking skills. For this reason, I have tried to develop projects that incorporate historical thinking skills. In fact, history is never as self-evident as it is presented in textbooks. If you compared world history textbooks, you would find that authors disagree a lot on how to present material. Historians also disagree a lot on how facts are to be interpreted so that while "common knowledge" suggests that history is about what happened in the past, history actually consists of a dialog among writers, scholars, and the general public not only about what happened, but about how and why it happened and what its effects were. Thus, history is not just about remembering answers, it involves following and evaluating arguments and arriving at usable conclusions based on what evidence you have. The facts, themselves, are not usually what historians argue about. We know that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The controversy and debate is around what factors led the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor or whether or not President Roosevelt knew about it in advance. In answering the first question, one can look at both "short-term" and "long-term" causes. The "short-term" causes were the immediate factors behind the attack, Japanese isolation, their fear of running out of oil, their frustrations with American demands that they pull their troops out of China. "Long-term" causes might consider the Japanese desire to construct an "Asia for the Asians," which essentially meant an Asia for the Japanese. The Japanese wanted to be recognized as a great imperial power like the United States and the European colonial powers, and were constantly frustrated by the way in which the U.S. and Europe failed to acknowledge what they believed to be their "manifest destiny" (that is, to control China and Southeast Asia). Even when one examines, "long-term" causes, one should remember that there was nothing inevitable about the bombing of Pearl Harbor (or any other historical event). History might have turned out much differently if the US had not moved some of its aircraft carriers (unbeknownst to the Japanese) before the bombing, which allowed them to survive the attack and continue to threaten the Japanese navy.

(Video) What is Historical Thinking

In short, to be able to engage in historical analysis and interpretation, you should be able to identify the author or source of a piece of evidence and assess its credibility. You should be able to compare and contrast different sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions. You should be able to differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations. You should be able to understand that multiple perspectives of the past are possible, even though history is often written from the point of view of winners. You should be able to analyze "cause-and-effect relationships," understanding that many events probably have multiple causes. In analyzing "cause-and-effect relationships," you should try to differentiate what happened because of individual action, cultural factors, or pure chance. You should understand that all historical interpretations are tentative and that they might be revised with the discovery of new evidence or by thinking about the problem in a new way. You should be able to evaluate major debates among historians and come to your own conclusions about them. Finally, you should be able to think about how events in the past may be shaping our present.

4. Historical Research Skills

The best way to learn about what history is, is to do or write history yourself. You should be able to formulate historical questions, obtain historical data, evaluate the data, contextualize the data, and present your history in a meaningful form. The textbook is a "secondary" source. It is a book that is based on primary source materials or other historical accounts that was written well after the event took place. If you read the section in the textbook on the conquest of Mexico, you will be reading an interpretation of that event. The authors believe that certain facts were important in allowing the Spaniards to conquer the Mexicas. They ignore other facts that they do not believe are important. "The Conquest of Mexico" page contains "primary" sources or accounts written by Cortés, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and, in principle, the Mexicas and other Nahuas. Only Cortés's letters were written at the time. Díaz del Castillo's account was written many years later from his memory. The Mexica sources were written down under Spanish supervision many years after the event. In evaluating the "primary" sources, you should think about who produced the account? when? how? and why? You should think about what is the evidence of its authenticity, authority, and credibility? What does it tell you about the point of view, background, or interests of its author or creator? What else is necessary to construct a useful story, explanation, or interpretation based on the sources. How might you revise what is written in the textbook from what you now know (or do you think the textbook interpretation is just fine)? One thing that is especially clear in the case of the "Conquest of Mexico" is how little can be said for sure about any of it. It is one of the most significant turning points in world history, but all of the main characters had a point of view that shaped their visions of events. This is the stuff historians have to work with, materials that are often full of gaps, contradictory, and messy. Yet for over a thousand years, men and women have struggled with this kind of evidence in imaginative ways to fill in the gaps and craft interpretations that help us to explain our own past.

(Video) Historical Thinking Skills: APUSH Explained

5. Historical Issues--Analysis and Decision-Making

History has been integrally related to political and economic decision-making for centuries. Our sense of our past in some ways shapes our sense of identity today. This is why it is so easy to argue about what history is the "right" history. Many individuals believe that we should not teach American students about some of the controversial problems in our country's past (slavery, destroying the lives of Native Americans, the treatment of late nineteenth and early twentieth century immigrants from Japan, China, and Mexico, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the use of atomic weapons, and so forth). Other individuals find greater inclusivity in history to be liberating. What is important is to be able to identify issues and problems in the past and to analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of all of those involved. One should examine the events of the past and think about what led up to them. What might have been done differently to resolve problems? What alternative actions might have been taken? What can we learn about how people made decisions to do the things they did? To answer these questions, you should be able to evaluate the implementation of a decision by analyzing the interests it served, by estimating the position, power, and priorities of each actor involved; by assessing the ethical dimensions of the decision; and by evaluating its costs and benefits from a variety of perspectives.

FAQs

What are examples of historical thinking skills? ›

These skills include reading comprehension, analysis, interpretation and argumentation. Historical thinking skills are useful because they allow historians and researchers to develop unique accounts of past events or time periods within a particular culture.

How can students use historical thinking skills? ›

Chronological thinking is at the heart of historical reasoning. Students should be able to distinguish between past, present, and future time. Students should be able to identify how events take place over time. Students should be able to use chronology in writing their own histories.

What are the 5 historical thinking skills? ›

Those important historical thinking skills are: contextualization, continuity, and change over time, causation, synthesis, and argumentation.

What is meant by historical thinking skills? ›

Historical thinking involves the ability to recognize, analyze, and evaluate. the dynamics of historical continuity and change over periods of time of. varying lengths, as well as the ability to relate these patterns to larger historical. processes or themes.

Why do we need historical thinking? ›

The past is difficult to retrieve and [historical thinking] helps us write accurate stories about what happened and what those events meant. The past is difficult to retrieve and these ways of reading and analysis help us write accurate stories about what happened and what those events meant.

What are the 4 historical skills? ›

The Four Historical Thinking Skills
  • Crafting Historical Arguments from Historical Evidence. ...
  • Chronological Reasoning. ...
  • Comparison and Contextualization. ...
  • Historical Interpretation and Synthesis.

What skills do students may develop in studying history? ›

Skills the Well Trained History Student Develops
  • The Ability to Assess Evidence (Critical Thinking). ...
  • The Ability to Assess Conflicting Interpretations. ...
  • Experience in Assessing Past Examples of Change. ...
  • The Ability to Write Cogently. ...
  • Using Technology. ...
  • History is Useful in the World of Work.

What is one skill that can be improved by studying history? ›

Career Opportunities: Studying history builds critical and widely applicable skills that employers in fields from business to government to education to law are looking for—history majors develop strong research, analytical, writing, and communication skills.

Why historical thinking is not about history? ›

One of the defining qualities of historical thinking is that it is fundamentally educational. Historical thinking must be distinguished from “history;” otherwise, “historical thinking” would include all of historiography, and it would be difficult to define as a distinct concept.

What are the 7 historical concepts? ›

The seven key concepts in History are: perspectives • continuity and change • cause and effect • evidence • empathy • significance • contestability.

What are the 10 reasons why we study history? ›

Here are ten reasons why history is crucial to our education.
  • History helps us understand other cultures. ...
  • History helps us understand our own society. ...
  • History helps us understand our own identities. ...
  • History builds citizenship. ...
  • History gives us insight into present-day problems. ...
  • History builds reading and writing skills.
21 Nov 2016

Why do we need the skills in teaching history? ›

The skills and concepts taught in history are crucial for helping pupils learn about the world around them and where they came from. If we can foster a natural sense of curiosity and teach children the skills to find out more independently, surely that's the sign of a high-quality education.

What is the element of historical thinking? ›

In response, we developed an approach we call the "five C's of historical thinking." The concepts of change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, we believe, together describe the shared foundations of our discipline.

What are historical thinking questions? ›

CONTINUITY AND CHANGE
  • HOW HAS SOCIETY CHANGED?
  • WHY DID SOCIETY CHANGE?
  • WAS CHANGE LONG LASTING?
  • WAS CHANGE DEEP AND SIGNIFICANT?
  • HOW DID SOCIETY STAY THE SAME?
  • WHY DID IT STAY THE SAME?

What makes someone good at history? ›

The ability to think, reflect, debate, discuss and evaluate the past, formulating and refining questions and lines of enquiry. An excelent knowledge and understanding of people, events, and contexts from a range of historical periods and of historical concepts and processes.

What is the best way to learn about history? ›

According to historians, the best way to learn history is to consult a timeline or a historical atlas. Historical atlases include maps and charts that depict the evolution of geopolitical landscapes. They help people understand history in a broad view by pinpointing the era when historical events happened.

What is the fastest way to learn history answers? ›

But fret not, here are some brilliant History-studying hacks that you can use to muster history on your fingertips.
  1. Fill some colors in your History book. ...
  2. Add dog-ears and annotations to different chapters. ...
  3. Create charts and timelines to connect events. ...
  4. Peek into some visual cues.
17 Dec 2019

How can I improve my knowledge and skills at work? ›

Here are 11 ways to keep your job skills and knowledge up-to-date.
  1. Take Professional Development Courses. ...
  2. Use Online Resources. ...
  3. Attend Professional Events. ...
  4. Network Online. ...
  5. Continue Your Education or Get a Certification. ...
  6. Learn new technology. ...
  7. Learn from Others. ...
  8. Read White Papers and Case Studies.

Can history be taught objectively? ›

But the idea of an objective version of history-telling, from which all others are deviant, is an absurdity. There is no objectivity in History. The very act of selecting a topic, for example, is privileging certain facts–making them “historical”–over others.

How accurate is written history? ›

History is as accurate as the historian recreating it. And the accuracy of the historian depends upon the accuracy of his or her sources. And that depends upon how much time the historian has spent, chasing up other sources to corroborate the initial ones.

How do I think like a historian? ›

Train students in the four key strategies historians use to analyze documents: sourcing, corroboration, close reading, and contextualization. With these skills, students can read, evaluate, and interpret historical documents in order to determine what happened in the past. [3] Demonstrate through modeling.

What are the 6 historical thinking skills? ›

The six “historical thinking concepts” are: historical significance, primary source evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, historical perspectives and ethical dimensions. Together, these concepts form the basis of historical inquiry.

What are the 7 historical concepts? ›

The seven key concepts in History are: perspectives • continuity and change • cause and effect • evidence • empathy • significance • contestability.

What are the historical thinking skills for AP World history? ›

Historical Thinking Skills

Identify and explain historical developments and processes. Analyze sourcing and situation of primary and secondary sources. Analyze arguments in primary and secondary sources. Analyze the contexts of historical events, developments, or processes.

What are the 4 historical skills? ›

The Four Historical Thinking Skills
  • Crafting Historical Arguments from Historical Evidence. ...
  • Chronological Reasoning. ...
  • Comparison and Contextualization. ...
  • Historical Interpretation and Synthesis.

What are historical thinking questions? ›

CONTINUITY AND CHANGE
  • HOW HAS SOCIETY CHANGED?
  • WHY DID SOCIETY CHANGE?
  • WAS CHANGE LONG LASTING?
  • WAS CHANGE DEEP AND SIGNIFICANT?
  • HOW DID SOCIETY STAY THE SAME?
  • WHY DID IT STAY THE SAME?

Why historical thinking is not about history? ›

One of the defining qualities of historical thinking is that it is fundamentally educational. Historical thinking must be distinguished from “history;” otherwise, “historical thinking” would include all of historiography, and it would be difficult to define as a distinct concept.

What skills are most important in studying history? ›

Key skills
  • Communication ( verbal and written)
  • Analytical skills.
  • The use of management information technology.
  • Learning to learn; improving one's own learning and performance; working with others.
  • Numeracy/ application of numbers.

What skills do students may develop in studying history? ›

Skills the Well Trained History Student Develops
  • The Ability to Assess Evidence (Critical Thinking). ...
  • The Ability to Assess Conflicting Interpretations. ...
  • Experience in Assessing Past Examples of Change. ...
  • The Ability to Write Cogently. ...
  • Using Technology. ...
  • History is Useful in the World of Work.

Which of the following is an element of historical thinking? ›

which of the following is an element of historical thinking? Considering the context (time and place) of events, situations, and ideas in order to understand how and why such events, situations, and ideas came to be.

What are the 3 types of history? ›

Contemporary history: the study of recent historical events. Counterfactual history: the study of historical events as they might have happened in different causal circumstances. Cultural history: the study of culture in the past.

What is history in simple words? ›

History is the study of change over time, and it covers all aspects of human society. Political, social, economic, scientific, technological, medical, cultural, intellectual, religious and military developments are all part of history.

What is the main idea of history? ›

History examines change over time and continuity in times of change. Historians use chronology to place these developments in context. Historians debate what has changed, what has remained the same, and the impact of these changes.

Is AP world hard? ›

More than 300,000 students took the AP World History exam in May 2020. And when the scores came back, World History ranked among the 10 hardest AP classes, based on the number of passing scores.

Is AP US history hard? ›

AP U.S. History is a challenging high school advanced placement course. The course covers centuries of material and requires sharp analysis skills. The AP U.S. History exam has a relatively low pass rate compared with those of other AP exams. Even though it's a difficult course, it can be rewarding for many students.

Is AP World History a college class? ›

About the AP World History Course and Exam

AP World History is designed to cover the material one would encounter in a two-semester introductory-level college world history course, although the reality is that very few colleges will award two semesters of credit for the course.

Videos

1. TABLE TALKS Episode 6: What historical thinking skills are your students learning?
(Sir Alo TV)
2. Thinking like a historian | The historian's toolkit | US History | Khan Academy
(Khan Academy)
3. Historical Thinking Skills
(Kathryn Adkins)
4. Teach Historical Thinking Skills: Analyzing History Sources
(The Game Plan Educational Solutions)
5. Confronting Antisemitism by Engaging Historical Thinking Skills - Carly Fox
(OER Project)
6. Historical Thinking Skills, Part 3 (HA 2022)
(National History Day)

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