A Rigorous Dialectic: Writing and Thinking in History
by Jack Schneider & Sivan Zakai — 2016
Background/Context: As prior research has established, historical thinking is shaped by disciplinary-specific reading and writing. Yet while our understanding of historical reading is relatively strong, our understanding of historical writing—and particularly, the core processes at work in historical writing—is less robust.
Purpose: This research project seeks to advance our collective understanding of historical writing by categorizing the core processes at work in the development of expertise.
Participants: The study examined the work of doctoral students beginning to write their dissertations. As graduate students pursuing Ph.D.s from top research universities, they were experienced in the role of history; but as writers of history, they were novices learning to construct historical scholarship.
Research Design: A qualitative study drawing upon survey and interview data, this project traces the historical writing process of a group of writers working on sustained historical writing projects across a year of their development.
Findings: Among the many skills of historical writers, four particular authorial dispositions stand out as critical. Historical writers, we find, are adept at finding patterns; they are adept at telling engaging and plausible stories; they are adept at modifying their positions; and they are adept at faithfully translating the “foreignness” of the past for a wider audience.
Conclusions: We recommend that K–12 and college educators establish clear goals with regard to what they want students to be able to do, and that they include among those goals the signature competencies of historical writers.
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