Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Part IV

We continue our series of blog posts on Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past.

Wineburg wraps up Chapter One with two great quotes about historical thinking:

…”presentism“–the act of viewing the past through the lens of the present–is not some bad habit we’ve fallen into. It is, instead, our psychological condition at rest, a way of thinking that requires little effort and comes quite naturally.

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image. Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born. History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense. Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.

I have read a lot of definitions of history over the years, but this is the best.

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