Historical Thinking Skills

WHAPHistorical Thinking Skills

Historical thinking involves the ability to describe, select, and evaluate relevant evidence about the past from diverse sources (written documents, works of art, archaeological artifacts, oral traditions, and other primary sources) and draw conclusions about their relevance to different historical issues. A historical analysis of sources focuses on the interplay between the content of a source and the authorship, point of view, purpose, audience and format or medium of that source, assessing the usefulness, reliability, and limitations of the source as historical evidence.

Historical thinking involves the ability to describe, analyze, and evaluate the different ways historians interpret the past. This includes understanding the various types of questions historians ask, as well as considering how the particular circumstances and contexts in which individual historians work and write shape their interpretations of past events and historical evidence.

Historical thinking involves the ability to identify, compare and evaluate multiple perspectives on a given historical event in order to draw conclusions about that event. It also involves the ability to describe, compare, and evaluate multiple historical developments within once society, one or more developments across or between different societies and in various chronological and geographical contexts.
Contextualization: Historical thinking involves the ability to connect historical events and processes to specific circumstances of time and place as well as broader regional, national or global processes.
Synthesis: Historical thinking involves the ability to develop understanding of the past by making meaningful and persuasive historical and/or cross-disciplinary connections between a given historical issue and other historical contexts, periods, themes or disciplines.

Historical thinking involves the ability to identify, analyze, and evaluate the relationships among historical causes and effects, distinguishing between those that are long term and proximate. Historical thinking also involves the ability to distinguish between causation and correlation and an awareness of contingency, the way that historical events result from a complex variety of factors that come together in unpredictable ways and often have unanticipated consequences.
Patterns of Continuity and Change over Time: Historical thinking involves the ability to recognize, analyze, and evaluate the dynamics of historical continuity and change over periods of time of varying length, as well as the ability to relate these patterns to larger historical processes or themes.
Periodization: Historical thinking involves the ability to describe. Analyze, and evaluate different ways that historians divide history into discrete and definable periods. Historians construct and debate different, sometimes competing models of periodization; the choice of specific turning points or starting and ending dates might accord a higher value to one narrative, region, or group than to another.


Historical thinking involves the ability to create an argument and support it using relevant historical evidence. Creating a historical argument includes defining and framing a question about the past and then formulating a claim or argument about that question, often in the form of a thesis. A persuasive historical argument requires a precise and defensible thesis or claim, supported by rigorous analysis of relevant and diverse historical evidence. The argument and evidence used should be framed around the application of a specific historical thinking skill (e.g. comparison, causation, patterns of continuity and change over time, or periodization). Furthermore, historical thinking involves the ability to examine multiple pieces of evidence in concert with each other, noting contradictions and other relationships among sources to develop and support an argument.

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