Various aspects of historical thinking have remained at the heart of history teaching over the decades. Historical thinking is an essential skill for students and scholars. Throughout my university education as an undergraduate and graduate student I keep coming back to Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought by Dr. David Hackett Fischer. His work influenced my ideas around historical thinking.
Dr. Mills Kelly in Teaching History in the Digital Age stated that historians have compiled different lists on elements of historical thinking. He listed several overlapping concepts of historical thinking such as: “The ability to tell the difference between a primary and a secondary source, the ability to construct an original argument based upon evidence from various sources, the ability to recognize what one does not or cannot know from the evidence at hand, the ability to understand that events are understood differently by different people, and the ability to ask probing questions—not just what happened, but why did it happen this way and why didn’t it happen that way?” Methods of historical thinking are essential to critical historical thought.
Dr. Kelly remarked on how digital media has influenced historical teaching when he said, “The best way to use digital media to teach them to see history as we see it is to create learning opportunities that make it possible for our students to do history—to practice it as we practice it—to help them make history, using their own creative impulses, rather than simply giving us what they hope is the correct answer to a question we have posed.” The influence of technology has changed how students and teachers practice historical thinking.
Subsequent scholars such as Lendol Calder and Tracy Steffes described the benefits of historical thinking when they said, “A historical consciousness fosters perspective-taking and empathy, and, because it requires students to wrestle with the limits of knowledge, historical thinking is a training ground for solving problems when definitive answers are elusive.” Historical scholars need empathy to adequately judge and analyze the past.
Another additional element of historical thinking that has remained consistent throughout the decades is collaboration. Teaching and learning history is a collaborative process between teachers and students. The above historical thinking elements and more have remained at the heart of teaching history over the decades because they allow both students and scholars to engage in a collaborative dialogue on historical thought.