Historical Thinking Questions

How do we know what we do about the past?

I believe this question is the most important question to address in socials this year. The past i defined as everything that has ever happened before us, while history is defined as recorded events that happened before us. Due to these definitions, the past can only be inferred through secondary sources, as anything with a primary source is classified as history. If we want to know more about the past, we must study history and make inferences. In order to make these inferences, we must have a clear understanding how our current knowledge of history came to be, and to do this we must question how we know what we know about the past. Questioning our knowledge allows us to keep in mind how history relates in time, as we have a fuller understanding of the event, as as well as how it was recorded. In addition, by understanding the means of which we learn about history, we are able to understand history itself better. An example of this is learning about Christopher Columbus “discovering” America. When we learn about this story, often times we hear about how great he was, however this is not the case, and we only found out that it was not due to asking questions about our evidence. For the longest time people took the “winners” side of the story as they were the ones that told it, however by questioning the source we were able to find out more evidence about the past that were not history before, and turned it into history. This applies to almost anything we are analyzing in socials this year, as we will gain further knowledge and understanding of events by questioning how we know about them. I believe this is the most important question to have a vibrant and challenging socials experience this year.


  1. Nathan,

    Keep in mind that while the ‘past’ is everything that has ever occurred up until this point, while ‘history,’ is a curated narrative that we tell about the past. Think of it like a personal collection, say a collection of stamps. The collector may have a certain type of stamp that they collect, and definitely not every stamp ever created.

    With this in mind, we need both primary and secondary sources to make inferences about the past. Primary sources do no work as a de-facto expression of past events. Remember that we must analyze them and corroborate this evidence with other primary sources to gain a better glimpse of history.

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