I graduated from George Mason University with an M.A. in Public History in May 2020. I am interested in teaching at the college level or through High School. Teaching at the college level will require a Ph.D. while teaching high school requires a teacher’s license in the state I wish to teach in. I will focus this blog post on teaching 9-12 grade students.
The first video introduced the idea of Threshold concepts which illustrates that different concepts and disciplines require different ways of thinking. Students’ difficulties in learning could be tied to each discipline. There is a different way of thinking when looking at how a student learns compared to how a senior scholar or professional learns. The second video introduced the idea of collaborative learning and how students learn, collaborate through group work, and understand new ideas and concepts. Teachers have to plan lessons but be ready and able to adjust their plans to support and improve students learning. The article and video by Sam Wineburg further conveyed the process of historical thinking as well as how historians have to imagine logic, ideas, and concepts that we do not have the first-hand experience with. Wineburg stated that we have to immerse ourselves in the past and study various opinions to think critically and judge historical figures to decide who to be empathetic too. We have to stretch our imagination and think in new ways to understand the past and cultivate empathy for logic that we do not possess such as to understand why the Radical Republicans opposed slavery while Southern democrats supported slavery during the 19th century.
Teaching for historical thinking requires students to analyze multiple accounts and perspectives to reach new conclusions. We have to ask new questions and take biases into accounts. Primary sources need to be questioned and analyzed critically. Sourcing is about asking questions surrounding primary sources, who created them, and their purpose. Another aspect of historical thinking is understanding historical context such as decoding LIncoln’s views on slavery and identifying 19th-century perspectives on race. Historical context is about locating events in time and space and asking questions about how ideology has influenced historical figures through sources.
The introduction to Stephane Levesque “Thinking Historically” complements the video of the same name and illustrates history as a narrative story. He outlined two aspects, substantive content knowledge when he said, “which is the content of history that we typically get in books, in movies, and it’s also equally structured in story form, that we listen, read, or require … procedural knowledge of the past which is the knowledge of how we research and make an interpretation of the past.” The above concepts help historians to understand and analyze the past. He went on to say that students experience difficulty with asking good historical questions because they do not immediately see how primary source documents convey past events. Students need to think historically within the context of the past. He said, “if you start understanding that we look at the past from the perspective of the present and that these skills can also be useful in how we read contemporary evidence might also help them understand that this is a very relevant skill for themselves as citizens.” Teachers can utilize historical thinking through teaching to become facilitators of knowledge. Levesque outlined five procedural concepts to studying history in his book: historical significance, continuity and change, progress and decline, evidence, and historical empathy.
There are various questions a student or scholar can consider when teaching and learning history. One example is how past interpretations of the past have changed and that there is no one single “true” version of historical events. Teaching high school students about the past revolves around utilizing a textbook and focusing on content that is appropriate to certain ages and grade levels. Nevertheless, it is important to teach students various concepts around historical thinking such as evaluating primary sources to analyze different accounts of certain events to answer various historical questions. One particular example is, “who fired the first shot at Lexington & Concord before the American Revolution?” Various primary sources depict different answers to that historical question. Other aspects of teaching history revolve around changing interpretations of the past. For example, one of the dominant views on Reconstruction Historiography emerged from the 1890s to the 1930s led by the Dunning School that depicted racism towards African Americans and promoted the Southern slaveowners as morally right after the war. W.E.B DuBois corrected that interpretation in his scholarly work “Black Reconstruction.” DuBois led the groundwork for 1960-1970 historians who were inspired by the Civil Rights MOvement to focus on the Radical Republicans’ egalitarian views and motivations. Egalitarianism has increased into the 21st century to further denounce the Dunning School. Another example of multiple schools of interpretation revolves around the American Revolution historiography, reasons, and motivations for the revolution. Students should begin to utilize critical thinking skills to judge different interpretations from within their own context that they were created. This exercise will allow them to form their own arguments as well as critique past interpretations and scholars. I would first start by having students review individual primary sources before moving onto larger interpretations.
The second aspect of historical thinking is how we judge the past. Teaching history is a collaborative process between students and the teacher/professor. Teaching and studying history is a narrative process. I believe that history, at its core, is a story to be read, analyzed, debated, and conveyed to the public in such a way that will interest them to learn more about how historical events relate to their daily lives in the 21st century. Students need to analyze the past within its context rather than through present-day biases. I agree with Wineburg’s statement that it is historical hubris to state that 21st-century citizens are more moral than those of the past. People are products of the time they lived through. It is necessary to convey to students that past historical figures may not have had the means, information, or knowledge that we have now when they made their decisions.
One final aspect of teaching historical thinking is how historical figures or scholars argued a specific point. For example, if a scholar or historical figure depicted how Reconstruction ended and whether it succeeded or failed we would first have to analyze footnotes and go back to primary sources to identify any holes in their argument and analyze silences in the past: identify what they conveyed to discern if and why they would choose not to include aspects of a historical event in their argument. Students need to be trained to think critically and question sources in front of them as well as scholarly works.
I love the collaborative nature of public history as well as the atmosphere within a college campus or a school district to convey my love history to the public. The collaborative nature of public history builds into teaching history as well as thinking historically. Students, teachers, professors, and the public can utilize historical thinking to reach new conclusions about the past.