Teaching Innovations

Thinking Historically in the Classroom: Introduction

Robert Blackey, October 1995

This month's Teaching Innovations column features a forum on a subject that is invariably woven into most everything we do that is classroom related: teaching students to think historically. Knowing that sooner or later much of the content we teach is forgotten—even we teachers are not likely to remember much about the history we studied but do not teach—surely there is something more our discipline conveys. At the heart of that something is what we call thinking historically, a critical way of understanding and learning about the past that can be carried over into the study of other disciplines and beyond school walls, a way of thinking that can help our students to become better human beings.

The contributors to this forum were asked to define and describe what thinking historically means, particularly with regard to their students, and then to explain, with the use of examples, how they teach and train their students accordingly. Representing different levels of teaching (from secondary to graduate), types of institutions (public and private, large and small), and geographical locations, they have produced 10 distinctive, yet complementary, essays. While any number of alternative approaches would likely result were any of the rest of us to articulate our own ideas, I hope that what fills these pages will stimulate reflection and exchanges on what lies imbedded in the instruction we provide, regardless of the history we teach.

This forum also serves to call your attention to teaching related sessions that will take place at the AHA annual meeting in Atlanta, in January, where a different cast of participants will discuss their views. (See page 29 of this issue of Perspectives.) You should also be aware of a College Board publication (available from the AHA), Thinking Historically: Narrative, Imagination, and Understanding, by Thomas C. Holt, past president of the AHA, that explores the issue at greater length.