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Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Critical Perspectives On The Past) Paperback – May 11, 2001

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Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Critical Perspectives On The Past) + Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms + "Why Won't You Just Tell Us the Answer?": Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press; Critical Perspectives On The Past edition (May 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566398568
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566398565
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Sam Wineburg has not merely contributed to our understanding of how history is created, taught and learned; he has nearly singlehandedly forged a distinctive field of research and a new educational literature. This volume brings together a decade-long record of conceptual invention and methodological creativity." oLee S. Shulman, President, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus, Stanford University "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." oPeter 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." oRandy Bass, Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, Georgetown University "This is a wide-ranging and at times inspirational work." oHistory of Education "Arguing that we all absorb lessons about history in many settingsoin kitchen table conversations, at the movies, or on the world-wide-web, for instanceothese essays acknowledge the role of collective memory in filtering what we learn in school and shaping our historical thinking." oNew York Review of Books

From the Publisher

How do historians know what they know?

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

More About the Authors

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Customer Reviews

This is the way history should be taught.
Frank J. Passaro Jr.
Great analysis...provides a lot of good insight on teaching history and developing historical thinking within students.
J. Heydon
"Historical Thinking" is an academic book, but not daunting or dry, and full of stories any reader can enjoy.
Judy Lightfoot

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Judy Lightfoot on July 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Taped to the door of Sam Wineburg's office at the University of Washington's College of Education are paired photos of dogs and their comically similar owners. Professor Wineburg greeted me with a pop quiz: "Which twins look most alike?"
Behind this playful question is an educational psychologist's interest in how people think, especially about history. Wineburg's "Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts" (Temple U. Press, 255 pages, [price]) shows that historical thought is not a natural process: it "goes against the grain of how we ordinarily think, one of the reasons why it is much easier to learn names, dates, and stories than it is to [understand] the past."
Wineburg told me his interest in this subject first awoke when he took a history class he couldn't ace with his good memory. He learned that histories aren't objective summaries of the facts but interpretations and arguments made out of information that's always incomplete. "But how did historians do that?" Wineburg asked. "Their books seemed like products of naturally systematic thought--which wasn't how my mind worked, but maybe I was just dumb!"
Wineburg's research into history and the mind has won many honors during his 12 years at the University of Washington. Through having students and professors think aloud while reading documents, he found that only novices just read something and decide what it means. "A historian's thought process is full of hunches and reverses, constant self-questionings and I-don't-knows," Wineburg explained.
Standardized history tests inhibit this kind of thinking, besides guaranteeing that students will seem vastly ignorant. "Periodically, starting with the first national survey in 1917, Americans have concluded from factual tests that kids don't know history.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Hinton on July 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
As a high school teacher of American history I am constantly searching for ways in which to improve my teaching and student learning. After seeing several references in other works to Wineburg's Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts I decided to read the book for myself, as it turns out that decision has proven to be the single best investment in my professional development and my student's ability to grasp the complexities of historical problems. There has been a long standing debate in the field of history education as to the mission of history educators, are we to teach history as a series of factual incidents over a period of time that can be neatly packaged and quantified on standardized tests or are we to teach the process of "doing history?" That is to teach the analysis of historical events usually through primary source documents not as "stuff that happened" but as the complex interaction of people of varied backgrounds with different goals, desires and points of view. As Wineburg points out in his brilliant analysis of how we think about events in the past, history is messy and the "Historical thinking requires us to reconcile two contradictory positions: first our established modes of thinking are an inheritance that cannot be sloughed off, and, second, that if we make no attempt to slough them off, we are doomed to a mind-numbing presentation that reads the present onto the past." Although Historical Thinking is an academic work Wineburg's writing style is accessible and fluent, teachers of history at all levels from the academy to the elementary classroom will benefit from this well written and relevant study.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By JOrth on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have mixed feelings about this effort. On the one hand, it is clearly one of the more thoughtful discussions of how we learn and think about history. Several of Wineburg's studies raise serious questions about how we know and discuss history. On the other hand, the book is disjointed and offers little in the way of solution. This is fair enough as Wineburg acknowledges both limitations. But for say ... a Social Science Teaching Methods class, the text is too thick with criticisms and too thin with solutions. What is really needed is a text that translates Wineburg's observations into California Social Science Skills Standards (or equivalent). One that takes knowing history seriously, but offers busy young teachers ways to improve their classrooms.

Whatever its limitations, I'd highly recommend the book to all history teachers. While we may not find "The Solution" we will find productive new approaches to creating our own solutions.
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Danny Boy on June 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I like the ideas in this book and think that the author has presented history professionals with plenty of research about how students and teachers interpret what they learn in their history courses. That said, I don't find this book to be particularly well written. Maybe it's just me, but getting through some of the essays was like slogging through mud... obscure language, lousy sentences, and paragraphs weighed down by too many words. I think most of the essays in this book could have been parred down to two or three pages a piece. So, Sam can think, but he writes like a graduate student who says in fifty words what could be said in ten. In fact, I think I can distill the book down to one (long)sentence: "We can't view or interpret what happened in the past accurately because we weren't there and are too affected by the present; therefore, looking back in time is at best like "looking through a glass darkly."
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