The Importance of Historical Thinking

In the article “Habits of Mind” authors Anthony Grafton and James Grossman advocate for the usefulness of historical training in a time where many humanists struggle to communicate well and are forced into specialization.[1] With many humanists using illogical narratives and unclear communication, Grafton and Grossman emphasize that the methods of communication and questioning historians use are important.[2] Historians learn to ask critical questions, research diverse topics, and communicate their arguments in a clear fashion.[3] Also, historians who research in archives are able to connect the significance of events from the past to the present.[4] Research in archives gives historians the opportunity to relate events and values from the past to themselves and their lifestyle in the present.[5] Grafton and Grossman stress that students who do archival work learn to construct strong historical arguments and strive to convey their work in a clear and strong way.[6] Also, research gives historians the ability to form their own original narratives.[7]


Anthony Grafton and James Grossman stress that the success of historians is found in their ability to communicate clearly and critically think.[8] They write that the value of historical training is not necessarily what knowledge one learns throughout their education, but their ability to analyze information at a deep level and communicate their thoughts in a persuasive and clear method. The educational tools a historian learns transcend into other fields of study because they help scholars develop a strong argument, hypotheses, or theory. Historical methods encourage people to question ideas and make connections between events, people, and beliefs. Does the value of studying history lie more in the pursuit of knowledge or in the knowledge itself?

[1] Grafton and Grossman, “Habits of Mind,” December, 10, 2014

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Historical Thinking

  1. I agree with your analysis of Anthony Grafton and James Grossman’s article, and finding that their focus was centered around a developing student’s ability to form intellectual arguments. The answer to the question, “Does the value of studying history lie more in the pursuit of knowledge or in the knowledge itself?”, however, was clear for the authors. According to Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, the evidence, or actual historical context, is a bonus and “what matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.” The goal for Historians such as Grafton and Grossman is to push students away from becoming a “passive consumer and critic.”((Grafton and Grossman, “Habits of Mind,” December, 10, 2014)) To study archives, then, is not just to understand the history of what happened, but also create a mindset based on answering big questions. Students generating their own ideas through research and refined intellectual writing build their own foundation to become, as Grossman and Grafton said, “independent, analytical thinker[s] and reflective, self-critical [people].”

  2. I would say that the Process leads to knowledge. For the pursuit, the value of studying history can really be felt when one goes through the process of studying history. When a historian decides to pursue knowledge from history, they embrace the process that involves in improving their knowledge of a certain country, event, or time period. They embrace the many hours it takes to study the primary and secondary sources which cover the period of their choice. If a scholar or student truly loves the long and arduous process of studying history, then they have found the value of studying history. Once they have embraced the process of studying history, then there will be knowledge in which one can value the study of history.

  3. In your post you state that historical research gives people the ability to understand their future better. Unfortunately, “What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.” (( Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on Philosophy of History, 1832 )) Actually, it’s of course necessary to teach students working with archives and making historical research. However, I think that more important task, which historians need to take into account, is that they still need to teach students not only to read and think analytical and critical about our past but to show them that they can work in the same way with today’s resources and avoid mistakes we’ve already experienced in the past. Because we can see from what’s happening around the world now, that many people even among political decision-makers lack this skill.

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