Thinking Like A Historian - Blog! - Two-Fisted History

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Thinking Like A Historian

Thinking as a Historian does can help you learn how to analyze information, see the relationships between causes & effects, make sense out of the past and make connections to the present, learn how to communicate by making well-reasoned arguments, and give a deeper understanding of people.  Just like the Scientific Method, Historians have their own method for investigating the past, acquiring new knowledge, and correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

A trio of young Jamestown settlers experience History first hand.

• Investigate
Take a look at the background.  Examine the origin of each source before analyzing.  What type of source is it?  When was it created and who created it? What prejudices might the author have had? What audience was the source intended for?

• Identify and Use Evidence
What is your evidence?  The sources that provide the background for historical conclusions and judgments. How do you know?  What clues do the sources offer? How do you plan to use these clues to make your case? What sources do you have to support your case?

• Interpret
What do you think? Create an explanation based on the historical evidence.  What conclusions can you draw?  What is your hypothesis?  How do you plan to prove you case?  Are you transforming the evidence, or just summarizing it?

• Corroborate
Cross-check.  Assess the reliability of the sources.  Do other sources exist and what do they say?  Can the claim be confirmed? How credible are the author and the source?  Are you using multiple sources to back up your claim?  How are you addressing opposing sources and ambiguities in information?

• Contextualize
Imagine the setting.  Think about the past on its own terms.  What was happening at that time both specifically and generally? What was the occasion and location? Are you looking at the past through a modern-day lens?   Did people in the past hold different principles?  What social, political, & economical forces were at work at that time?  How does the context shape your understanding?

• Determine Significance
So what?  Why does this matter?  Connect the source, topic, or event to the bigger picture of History and current events.  How did the event or issue influence people’s lives and to what extent did the event/issue affect different aspects of society?  What were some of the immediate and long-term effects of the event/issue?  Why is the event/issue important?

Thinking as a Historian allows us to see the past as more than just a set of facts.  It allows us to be there.  It allows History to become something active and not just sitting in a classroom reading a state-sponsored textbook.  It turns the student of History into Indiana Jones or Benjamin Franklin Gates – someone who is doing and experiencing History rather than hearing about it third-hand. 

While the facts are important, through the practice of experiencing History, we develop higher-order thinking skills that will be used in whatever academic or career path we choose. . .

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