Tools for Historical Thinking
Everything in this course is studied through the use of one or several of the 6 tools for historical thinking identified by The Critical Thinking Consortium. As a student of history it is critical that you keep these tools at the forefront of your mind while in class and in crafting the work produced for this course. A clear ability to use these tools in thinking, discussing and producing work for this course is central to your course evaluation. Etch these 6 tools into your memory.
1. Historical Significance → establish historical perspective
2. Evidence → use primary source evidence
3. Continuity and Change → identify continuity and change
4. Cause and Consequence → analyze cause and consequence
5. Historical Perspective → take historical perspectives
6. Moral & Ethical Judgement → understand the moral and ethical dimensions
The Big Six Tools
1. Historical Significance → How do we decide what is important to learn about past events?
a) did it result in change?
b) did it reveal something?
c) does it occupy a meaningful place in a narrative?
d) how does the significance of it vary over time and from group to group?
2. Evidence → How do we know what we know about past events?
a) what inferences inform the conclusions about this source?
b) what questions need to be asked about this source?
c) what does this source tell us about the author’s purposes, values and worldview?
d) what conditions and worldviews were common surrounding the event in question?
e) what other sources might this source be checked against?
3. Continuity & Change → How can we make sense of the complex flows of history?
a) how is continuity and change interwoven?
b) how does change shift the direction or pace of an event? What are key turning points?
c) what are examples of progress and/or decline?
d) what events or developments constitute a period of history?
4. Cause & Consequence → Why do events happen, and what are their impacts?
a) what causes and consequences make up the web of an events narrative?
b) what causes are most important?
c) who are key actors and what are key conditions linked to the event?
d) what are the unintended consequences of the event?
e) was the event inevitable?
5. Historical Perspectives → How can we better understand the people of the past?
a) what are the differences between current and past worldviews?
b) what present ideas are being imposed on actors in the past?
c) what historical context helps us to understand the perspective of actors in the past?
d) how did actors in the past feel and/or what did they think?
e) what are the different perspectives of different actors to the same event?
6. The Ethical Dimension → How can history help us to live in the present?
a) what judgments are being made in re-telling the event?
b) what context must be considered when thinking about the event?
c) is our current sense of right and wrong being imposed on past actors or events?
d) what are we responsible for remembering and responding to from the past?
e) what are the limitations of the lessons from past actors or events when making judgments today?
We naturally and regularly use our beliefs as assumptions and make inferences based on those assumptions. Consider this example: “I heard a scratch at the door. I got up to let the cat in.” My inference was based on the assumption (my prior belief) that only the cat makes that noise, and that he makes it only when he wants to be let in.