History is the study of people and the choices they made.
(By Zachary Schrag, The Princeton Guide, p. 9)

History is the study of past human behavior in the context of its times from the evidence that remains.
(By Matthew Pinsker, History 204)

Essential Question

What is historical thinking?

The Dickinson History Department organizes that concept into five learning objectives for all of its students:

1. Develop historical perspectives
2. Express themselves clearly
3. Locate relevant information
4. Identify key historical issues and debates
5. Support plausible historical arguments

But other institutions define historical thinking in different ways.  In particular, Sam Wineburg, a noted scholar of history education, has created resources for classroom teachers to promote historical thinking around five core components:

  1. Multiple Accounts & Perspectives
  2. Analysis of Primary Documents
  3. Sourcing
  4. Understanding Historical Context
  5. Claim-Evidence Connection

Learn more about Wineburg’s approach at the Stanford History Education Group.  Or read Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001), [GOOGLE BOOKS].

Schrag’s Opening Guide to History Vocabulary (Chapters 1-2)

  • Contingency
  • Determinism
  • Agency
  • Academic history
  • Public history
  • Herodotus (c. 484 – 425 BCE)
  • Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 BCE)
  • Tacitus (c. 56-c.120 CE)
  • Edward Gibbon (1737-94)
  • Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886)
  • Henry Adams (1836-1918)
  • American Historical Association (AHA)

Pinsker’s Seven Stages of Historical Thinking

  1. Humility
  2. Curiosity
  3. Persistence
  4. Empathy
  5. Nuance
  6. Precision
  7. Clarity

Close Reading:  Machiavelli in exile


by Niccolo Machiavelli

On the coming of evening,
I return to my house and enter my study;
and at the door I take off the day’s clothing,
covered with mud and dust,
and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately,

I enter the ancient courts of ancient men,
where, received by them with affection,
I feed on that food which only is mine and which I was born for,
where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them
the reason for their actions;
and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time

I do not feel boredom,
I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty,
I am not frightened by death;

entirely I give myself over to them. 


(adapted from a letter to Francesco Vettori, December 10, 1513)