What Is Historical Thinking and Why Is It Important?

Contributor: Elephango Editors. Lesson ID: 10397

Is the study of history just about dull facts? Or is it more about examining and analyzing those facts? Through video and online activities you will learn the importance of proper historical thinking!



learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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People have been debating these questions for many years, and they look to historians to help find the answers.

  • So, how do historians do that?
  • And, can you learn to think like a historian?

Historical thinking is a way of looking at history that views it as more of a mystery to be solved than a long list of events that happened in the past!


Many historical issues can get very complicated and take years or even decades to study, so historians have to be very careful about their work.

But even if you don't want to be a historian, learning the skills of historical thinking will better prepare you to analyze what you read on any topic. The skills necessary for historical thinking are transferable, meaning you'll be able to use them in other subjects and parts of your life as well!

So, let's get started!

What are some of the elements of historical thinking?

  1. Historical thinking means using reasoning skills to discover not only what happened in the past, but also why and how.
  2. Historical thinking means looking for evidence of historical events: documents, photos, written accounts, oral history, and archaeological finds.
  3. Historical thinking means analyzing the evidence and asking questions like: Where did it come from? How reliable is it?
  4. Historical thinking means making judgments about historical events and time periods: How did this event affect individual people, nations, political systems, society, and the world?

Let's watch an example of historical thinking!

As you watch Piscataway Park and Tobacco Farming, from Teaching History, take notes on the historical thinking that went into setting up this colonial farmhouse display.

  • How did the historians use the evidence to draw conclusions about the homestead and the people who lived there?

You'll need these notes to complete the Got It? section, so hang on to them!

When you are ready to test your knowledge, head over to the Got It? section.

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