An Inventory of the Skills of Historical Thinking
The Essential Skill
Comprehension: What do the documents say and mean? Accurately reconstructs the meaning of documents. No misreadings, serious misconceptions of authors’ meanings, or relevant documents ignored.
The Six Core Skills
Question to Thesis: What questions make historical sense of these documents? Asks a good historical question, which is then answered in the form of a thesis that makes a significant claim.
Connecting: How does a document fit into a bigger picture? Connects information from various sources: compares & contrasts, corroborates testimony, observes interesting links.
Evidence: How do I know what I claim to know about my question? Reasons inductively from
Cognitive facts or cases to a general conclusion; reasons deductively from authoritative statements to an unknown;
Skills allows evidence to correct preconceived opinions; supports thesis with evidence.
Multiple Perspectives: How might others plausibly interpret this evidence differently? Considers more than one point of view; rebuts or concedes objections to thesis.
Aware of Limits: What do I not know that I need to know? What problems remain? Is appropriately self-critical; admits contrary evidence; qualifies arguments; recognizes limits to one’s historical knowledge.
Sourcing: What is this document good for? Identifies sources, contextualizes & assesses documents for bias, reliability, relevance, point of view.
The Four Advanced Skills
Change/Causality: What has changed, and why? Recognizes and explains notable change over time. Attentive to multiple causation; avoids simplistic monocausal explanations.
Context: What background knowledge helps us understand the documents? Provides accurate, helpful background knowledge that helps to interpret texts in context.
Research: Where can I find more evidence? Uses relevant, significant sources found on one’s own: in other books, on scholarly web sites, etc.
Narrative: How can I make sense of the evidence with a story? Uses the conventions of narrative art to give intelligible meaning to evidence from the past.