Historical Thinking as a Practice and a Discipline:
Whether it is a “mind-altering encounter” (Wineburg et. al.), the “self-appropriation” (Levesque) of procedures for interpreting history, the decoding (Pace) or unpacking (Middendorf) of the discipline of history, or to go “against the grain on our thinking” (Wineburg), there seems to be a general consensus among the scholars we have studied on how historical thinking can empower learners. Based on these readings, I perceive historical thinking as a set of overarching abilities that allows them to reach new ways of understanding the discipline of history.
To capture the complexity of the past, students must handle competing worldviews and interpretations of historical claims and evidence (teachinghistory.org). If perceived as a sustained practice, historical thinking can be an ongoing conversation between learners and teachers (as a community) where they discuss ways of making sense of the past, as well as ways of negotiating with meaning during present societal challenges.
Historical knowledge comes in various formats and modes of delivery, and for many of these scholars, it is crucial that learners practice going beyond the product (e.g. textbook) or the format in which knowledge is presented. Crossing this threshold would not only enable them to recognize significance of the claim or the evidence, it will also develop higher levels of awareness of the underlying processes that generated such product in the first place.
Historical Thinking as “Sophisticated Thinking”
Scholars in this subject place importance in helping learners engage in a higher levels of historical thinking skills. Sophisticating these skills would lead learners to : (1) view historical authority with informed skepticism, (2) be open to new perspectives of the past (and how that past shapes their present, (3) add their own voices, and essentially be cognizant of the schools of thoughts or systems that have shaped their perception of history. Reaching this threshold would allow the learner to gain access to a spectrum of inquiries (simple to complex questions), a spectrum of investigating methods, and a spectrum of perspectives. It’s having the intellectual and social flexibility to deal with unresolved pasts and presents.
Question 1: What are the best approaches to help learners practice navigating through the “jagged landscape” (Wineburg) of history?
In that historical thinking can be such a complex process for learners, I would like them to not get caught up in knowing the facts, but in finding ways to articulate the conflictive nature of history. I would like to figure out how to best facilitate learners with the tools for them to go beyond the prescriptive methods of the historian craft (reading, analyzing, and writing about historical sources). To navigate the landscape would require adaptability, accountability, and self-direction. The aim would be to think and practice like a historian.
Question 2: How can I determine if a learner has crossed the passageways to a deeper understanding of the discipline of history?
It would very challenging to measure how the learner has developed the tools and procedures to encounter knowledge and to acknowledge its evolving and dynamic nature. I would have activities where they can demonstrate their abilities (1) to problematize historical knowledge, (2) to ask more complex questions, (3) to enter into healthy debates, and (4) to weigh diverse pieces of evidence against one another.
Question 3: How can we help educators create the kind of curriculum that helps their learners develop awareness to their own historicities and the historicities of others?
Easier said than done. I understand that there are many challenges that educators are facing when trying to integrate historical thinking into their classrooms. Time, politics, and the disconnect that exists between historians and history educators, are some of the constraints that have made this endeavor very difficulty. This would required collaborative efforts, partnerships between diverse stakeholders (teachers, Dept. of Education, public history institutes, students) to meet and to come up with content, methods, resources, and platforms for students to access and do history collectively.