How do historians know what they know?
Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
Charting the Future of Teaching the Past
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Winner of the Frederic W. Ness Award, The Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2002
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 historyand learn itas 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 understand the present." Arguing that we all absorb lessons about history in many settingsin kitchen table conversations, at the movies, or on the world-wide web, for instancethese essays acknowledge the role of collective memory in filtering what we learn in school and shaping our historical thinking.
"With this volume, Sam Wineburg firmly established his place as the pre-eminent North American researcher in history education. His chapters range from insightful scholarly mediations to innovative empirical studies. He examines the knowledge and practices of historians, history teachers, and young people, as well as the vibrant field of research that has recently developed around these issues. Historical Thinking makes a vitally important contribution to our understanding of how we think and learn about the past."
"Historical Thinking is intellectually substantive, integrative, and timely. In the midst of all the talk about new technologies, distance learning, and standardized testing, his fine-grained inquiries into learning and knowledge are a sobering reminder that educators have a lot to learn about learning."
"This is a wide-ranging and at times inspirational work."
"Arguing that we all absorb lessons about history in many settingsin kitchen table conversations, at the movies, or on the world-wide-web, for instancethese essays acknowledge the role of collective memory in filtering what we learn in school and shaping our historical thinking."
"Historians, especially academic historians, who normally avoid the literature on history education for its banality, thin research base, or ideological cant will overlook this book at their peril. Sam Wineburg brings both a burning concern for the state of history instruction and a wide knowledge of history to his research agenda."
"Wineburg's work is part of a broader effort to move beyond general features of teaching and learning and to examine the unique aspects of education in specific academic disciplines."
"This is a book that will interest not only history educators, but all in the history field who desire to communicate the importance and value of the study of history to a populace that is often less than eager to embrace it."
"For Wineburg the study of history commends itself as a unique and complex way of knowing the world that must, if it is to realize its full potential as a humanistic discipline, embrace a paradox: that of seeing the past as at one and the same time familiar and strange.
"Using cognition as an organizing approach, the author has asked good questions and made some thoughtful forays into helping us understand why history is so important."
"The author of this collection is passionate about the teaching of history. ...students are encouraged to put themselves into the shoes of the people whose actions they are studying in order to arrive at their own understanding of what they had done."
"...the fact that Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts comprises a wide-ranging assortment of issues can be viewed as a strength of the book from the standpoint of a reflective practitioner hoping to enrich his or her understandings of the historical enterprise."
"Teaching the Mind Good Habits" by Sam Wineburg, The Chronicle Review, 11 April 2003.
"A History of Flawed Teaching" by Sam Wineburg, Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2005.
Introduction: Understanding Historical Understanding
Part I: Why Study History?
Part II: Challenges for the Student
Part III: Challenges for the Teacher
Part IV: History as National Memory
In the series
Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.