Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Critical Perspectives On The Past)

Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Critical Perspectives On The Past)

Sam Wineburg

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 1566398568

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Since ancient times, the pundits have lamented young people's lack of historical knowledge and warned that ignorance of the past surely condemns humanity to repeating its mistakes. In the contemporary United States, this dire outlook drives a contentious debate about what key events, nations, and people are essential for history students. Sam Wineburg says that we are asking the wrong questions. This book demolishes the conventional notion that there is one true history and one best way to teach it. Although most of us think of history - and learn it - as a conglomeration of facts, dates, and key figures, for professional historians it is a way of knowing, a method for developing an understanding about the relationships of peoples and events in the past. A cognitive psychologist, Wineburg has been engaged in studying what is intrinsic to historical thinking, how it might be taught, and why most students still adhere to the one damned thing after another concept of history. Whether he is comparing how students and historians interpret documentary evidence or analyzing children's drawings, Wineburg's essays offer rough maps of how ordinary people think about the past and use it to
















What should students know about history? How should teachers teach? What differences among students matter? Mr. Barnes and Ms. Kelsey would answer these questions differently—our data bear witness to that. And in a democracy, we would hope to create communities that nurtured and supported diversity of thought and opinion. Yet there is something unsettling here. The diversity we seek to celebrate is rooted in knowledge. For example, we value diverse historical views when they engage each other in

About History and Literature” American School Board Journal 174 (1987), 32. 28. This characterization as “shameful” comes from Ravitch and Finn, 17- Year-Olds, 201. See the parallels in a Canadian context, Jack Granatstein, Who Killed Canadian History? (Toronto, 1998). For a penetrating critique of Granatstein's failure to consider his findings in a comparative context, see Chris Lorenz, “Comparative Historiography: Problems and Perspectives” History and Theory 38 (1999), 25–39. 29. Dale

of the major interpreters of Lincoln and race relations in the United States: Winthrop Jordan, George Fredrickson, Don E. Fehrenbacher, Richard Weaver, Richard Hofstadter, and others. IMAGES OF THOUGHT The first document was by Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln's opponent in the 1858 senatorial campaign. It begins with Douglas claiming that Lincoln supported giving the franchise to slaves and the right to run for public office and serve on juries. In making these claims, Douglas established his own

that we have neglected more useful questions about young people's historical knowledge. For example, what do students know about the past? What sources beyond teachers and textbooks contribute to their understanding? How do they make meaning from complex historical documents? How do they navigate between images of the past learned in the home and those encountered in school? How do they situate their own personal histories in the context of national and world history? These questions have rarely

an engraving of the Boston Massacre, the text alerts readers that “actually there were only ten soldiers and about sixty protesters who clashed on that March day in 1770.”40 Ms. Kelsey, on the other hand, interpreted “student misconceptions” as the broad, entrenched beliefs about history she referred to in Exercise 1. She saw the text as “reinforcing misconceptions, hardly ameliorating them” because “the poor treatment accorded women, Blacks, and Native American cultures will tend to reinforce

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