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Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural ActsHistorical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts

Charting the Future of Teaching the Past

Sam Wineburg

Winner of the Frederic W. Ness Award, The Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2002


Book published by Temple University Press


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 history—and learn it—as 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 settings—in kitchen table conversations, at the movies, or on the world-wide web, for instance—these essays acknowledge the role of collective memory in filtering what we learn in school and shaping our historical thinking.

Sam Wineburg is Professor of Education at Stanford University and formerly Professor of Cognitive Studies in Education and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Washington, Seattle.

REVIEWS:

“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.”

History News

“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.”

The Journal of American History

“This is a wide-ranging and at times inspirational work.”

History of Education

“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.”

—Peter Seixas, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Education, University of Brutish Columbia

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.”

—Randy Bass, Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, Georgetown University





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