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Historical Thinking and Historical Empathy


Historical Thinking and Historical Empathy Historical Thinking is. . . Not Recall Mere reenactment Mere process or method with no facts Instead it is Question-driven ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Historical Thinking and Historical Empathy

Historical Thinkingand Historical Empathy
Historical Thinking is. . .
  • Not
  • Recall
  • Mere reenactment
  • Mere process or method with no facts
  • Instead it is
  • Question-driven
  • Analytical
  • Applied knowledge
  • Evidence-based interpretation

To quote Bruce Lesh
  • History is about the debate between competing
    interpretations of events, individuals, and ideas
    of the past based on the utilization of
    historical evidence.
  • Bruce Lesh, Why Wont You Just Tell Us the
    Answer? Teaching Historical Thinking Grades 7-12
    (Portland, ME Stenhouse Publishers, 2011), 4.

Essential Skills
  • Posing historical questions/framing historical
  • Establishing significance
  • Correlation from disparate sources
  • Sourcing
  • Contextualization
  • Citingsupporting claims with evidence
  • Critical engagement with the other side
  • Recognizing limitations to knowledge

Historical Empathy is NOT
  • Putting students in positions where they will
    have the same beliefs or experience the same
    emotions experienced by people living in the
  • An exercise in imagination over
  • Being (imagine you are an Apache warrior)
  • Identification (identify with Adolf Hitler)
  • Sympathy (sympathize with victims of slavery)
  • Being the person in the past

Historical Empathy IS
  • Understanding the past as making sense in light
    of the way people saw things.
  • Asking why did an individual or group of people,
    given a set of circumstances, act in a certain
  • Judging past actors in their own historically
    situated context and on its terms.
  • Cultivated as an observer of the past, not as an
    actor in the past.
  • An exercise in a specific type of
    imaginationHistorical imagination.

Historical Imagination is. . .
  • Not
  • Fictional or fantasymaking up information
  • Detached from evidence or context
  • Imagining myself in the past as I think today
  • Instead, it is
  • Rooted in students understanding of context and
    their analysis of evidence
  • An intellectual leap between information in
    historical sources and gaps within the evidence

Asking Questions and Framing Problems
  • An unnatural act
  • Moving beyond the facts to significance
  • Six honest serving men
  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

Establishing Significance
  • What is the historians purpose in investigating
    a given event?
  • Was the event a catalyst for great, enduring
  • Can the event or figure be linked to larger
    processes to
  • Illuminate some aspect of past experience poorly
  • Illustrate the impact of larger events

  • Identifying key information in multiple sources
  • Supplementing information from one source with
    additional information from another
  • Corroborating claims in one source with
    additional supporting assertions from another

Source Criticism
  • Identifying the source
  • What kind of source (e.g. letter, diary, military
    order, official record)
  • Who, when, where, why, how produced?
  • Adjusting for bias
  • What evidence of bias is present (in purpose of
    document, internal vocabulary or tone?
  • What information may be gleaned from the bias?
  • How can the bias be corrected (e.g. correlation
    with other sources, reading against the grain)

  • Identifying time of production
  • Recognizing the social and cultural setting in
    which the document was produced
  • Evaluating the documents information, claims,
    and biases with reference to its cultural context
  • Purpose to understand
  • Not to give a moral pass
  • Not to impose present values and prejudices

  • Linking a historians claims with the primary
    evidence supporting those claims
  • Footnotes with information allowing others to
    find and check the source
  • The historians equivalent of scientific
    repetition of experimentation

Critical Engagement with the Other Side
  • Identifying the range of rival interpretations of
    a historical event
  • Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of rival
  • Positioning ones own argument within the range
    of rivals and explaining its advantages over
    rival arguments.

Recognizing Limits to Knowledge
  • Acknowledging the silences in the sources
  • No comprehensive records of the past
  • Some information lost
  • Some information inadvertently omitted
  • Some information deliberately suppressed
  • Acknowledging imperfect understanding of context
  • Acknowledging inaccessibility of some information
    (e.g. psychological motives)
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