History's Habits of the Mind
The perspectives and modes of thoughtful judgment derived from
the study of history are many, and they ought to be its principal
aim. Courses in history, geography, and government should be designed
to take students well beyond formal skills of critical thinking,
to help them through their own learning to:
- understand the significance of the past to their own lives,
both private and public, and to their society.
- distinguish between the important and the inconsequential, to
develop the "discriminating memory" needed for a discerning
judgment in public and personal life.
- perceive past events and issues as they were experienced by
people at the time, to develop historical empathy as opposed to
- acquire at one and the same time a comprehension of diverse
cultures and of shared humanity.
- understand how things happen and how things change, how human
intentions matter, but also how their consequences are shaped
by the means of carrying them out, in a tangle of purpose and
- comprehend the interplay of change and continuity, and avoid
assuming that either is somehow more natural, or more to be expected,
than the other.
- prepare to live with uncertainties and exasperating, even perilous,
unfinished business, realizing that not all problems have solutions.
- grasp the complexity of historical causation, respect particularity,
and avoid excessively abstract generalizations.
- appreciate the often tentative nature of judgments about the
past, and thereby avoid the temptation to seize upon particular
"lessons" or history as cures for present ills.
- recognize the importance of individuals who have made a difference
in history, and the significance of personal character for both
good and ill.
- appreciate the force of the nonrational, the irrational, the
accidental, in history and human affairs.
- understand the relationship between geography and history as
a matrix of time and place, and as context for events.
- read widely and critically in order to recognize the difference
between fact and conjecture, between evidence and assertion, and
thereby to frame useful questions.
Habits of Mind taken from:
Bradley Commission on History in Schools. Building a History
Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools. Westlake,
OH: National Council for History Education, 1995. p. 9.
National Council for History