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Learning Historical Thinking

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Presentation on theme: "Learning Historical Thinking"— Presentation transcript:

1 Learning Historical Thinking

2 Background “To think historically is essentially to be a critical thinker when it comes to the study of history.” Peter Seixas, University of British Columbia Peter’s specialty is history – not education – and not social studies. He is among the top researchers in the world in our field and woks out of the Centre For Historical Consciousness at UNB in Vancouver which he founded. Tamara Richard went to Vancouver a couple of years ago with Al Sears to help develop this project Carla Peck, formally of District 18, is now nearly finished her PhD and spent a couple of years working with Peter in Vancouver on the development of this project Roland Case runs a centre that focuses on the publishing of professional books for teachers called The Critical Thinking Consortium.

3 6 Concepts of Historical Thinking
Significance Evidence Continuity & Change Cause & Consequence Historical Perspective-taking The Moral Dimension (Judgment) The concept of Significance is one of the 6 Benchmark concepts of historical thinking and an easy one to begin with – for adults or students Evidence is a key one that we often spend time referring to, but we often do not explore it on its own. We often interpret it for our students, usually in the same way we had it interpreted for us when we were in school. Continuity and change over time – why do some things change and others stay the same? We often think of life being very different today than the 1950s – but was it really that different? Where schools that different? Cause and Consequence – sometimes kids and adults want to simplify things. While the simplest answer is sometimes the best one – we forget that life is just as complex today as it was 50 or 100 years ago. They events we study in history – just as those significant events that people will study about our time in 100 years happen in context. It is often easy for kids to say that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, but the cause of the war in Iraq is different than Afghanistan. Perspective taking - The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there the moral dimension are complicated and I will touch more on them shortly.

4 Significance How do we make judgments about what events in history are important? What criteria is used to judge significance? This is the work of historians and they must employ historical thinking to determine significance. Jack Granatstein – Ranking Prime Ministers Anthologies and history books Historians can’t write books about everything – publishers would not publish them and people would not read them. Selecting what is important, more important and most important IS the work of historians and those studying history. Think about the exercise we just did – what things would our students have put in their top 10 and top 3 – and more importantly – what criteria would they use? Their lists are different, partly because they have never studies about these events – but how many of us dismissed or discounted events as being important simply because we had never heard of them?

5 Aspects of Significance
Prominence of the event at the time Consequences (resulting in change) Deep consequence for many people over a long period of time Revealing Does the event explain something about later events or the present? Occupies a key place in a meaningful narrative Refer back to groups ideas/criteria for determining significance. Examples include: (a) Vimy Ridge (b) Charter of Rights © 1972 Canada Russia Series

6 Aspects of Evidence Problem: The past is gone
How do we know about the past? Primary & secondary documents (traces & accounts) How do we decide what to believe about the past? Learning to critically analyze accounts from the past is an important skill to develop. Ask yourself – is this credible? Does this person’s account match up with other individuals’ accounts? Is this secondary source based in part on primary sources? ??????????????????????????????????????????? There is a difference between the past and history – the past is gone, history is what remains of it. It is how we know about the past.

7 Source documents provide the best evidence that something in the past was important and can be called a part of History.

8 Continuity and Change Change and continuity are on-going and ever present Change can occur at different rates Change and continuity can be both positive and negative (e.g. progress & decline) Comparisons can be made between points of history and between the past and the present

9 The IBM 7094, a typical mainframe computer [photo courtesy of IBM]
Futurists predicted computers on the 1980’s would fit in smaller rooms. Some pictures show them including steering wheels. The IBM 7094, a typical mainframe computer [photo courtesy of IBM]


11 Cause & Consequence Events have a myriad of different and often unappreciated causes Prior events may have no casual influence on subsequent events Looking for broad underlying factors is more important (often) than identifying immediate specific causes of an event Actions have unintended consequences How many students think that WW1 was caused by the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand? Or that WW2 started because we wanted to stop Hitler from killing Jews? Pearl Habor and US in WW2 without knowing what happened before Pearl Harbor. Marilyn Manson and Columbine massacre? We should try to get kids to avoid easy answers and look for something more complicated by examining the entire context of events.


13 Historical Perspective
Presentism is the opposite of historical perspective. Presentism is when you examine the past through today’s understandings (values, norms, technological understanding) The goal, when thinking historically, is to avoid presentism. The Past is a foreign Country – they do things differently there. Come back to John A MacDonald’s quotation about the Chinese or the statue in Ottawa or the text from NB – none were considered out of the ordinary at the time they were created.

14 Moral Judgment Moral Judgments are a particular kind of evaluative (or value) judgment Moral judgments about the past must be sensitive to historical content/context There is value in withholding moral judgments until adequate information has been acquired Determining cause is different from assigning responsibility Truman – Atomic Bomb Trudeau – War measures Act Mulroney – Free Trade good for economy John A MacDonald – was he a good role model for students? Environment – Is industrialism a disaster for the environment?

15 The bombing of Hiroshima
The bombing of Hiroshima. Mushroom clouds rose higher than the altitude of passenger jets.


17 What does this photo tell us about schools in NB around 1870?
What kinds of information about schools is not included in the drawing? What Questions does the drawing raise? What kinds of sources might provide more information about schools in NB at that time?


19 Thinking historically …
Make inferences about life around town at that time Consider the societal, economic, & technological environment Compare with photos of the same place today Identify a list of things that have changed and stayed the same

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