Having explored historical reasoning in more detail, the question may arise to what extent there is something like historical reasoning or whether it merely reflects general reasoning skills. This question is related to the fundamental question whether thinking and reasoning are general skills or domain-specific skills. Kuhn () argues that there is a general reasoning ability, which is independent of domain-specific knowledge. The philosophers in her study, who are considered experts in reasoning with no specific knowledge in the domain, outperformed the domain experts on quality of reasoning. Better reasoners tend to be analytic, generate different types of arguments and also arguments opposed to ones own position, and they are more inclined to use meta-cognitive mechanisms. On the other hand there are findings that stress the domain-specific aspects (Glaser ; Hirschfeld and Gelman ; Perfetti et al.; Voss et al. 1980, in Wineburg ). Perfetti et al.() state that historical reasoning may be informed by specific (historical) information but is guided by general reasoning principles. They consider historical reasoning as “neither specifically historical, nor fully general” (p. 5). Historical reasoning then depends on skills to approach texts and evidence critically and with an attempt to sort out evidence and construct arguments. We consider historical reasoning as a sub-concept of the overarching concept reasoning, just as, for instance, geographical reasoning or jurors reasoning. Historical reasoning can, thus, be regarded as a more specific form of reasoning. Consequently, historical reasoning requires general reasoning skills, but also contains several characteristics that are more specific to this particular domain. Historical reasoning is not only informed by historical information, domain-specific knowledge, and domain-specific epistemological beliefs, but also implies the application of historical heuristics or thinking strategies related to the meta-concepts of history. An example may clarify this. In one of our studies we asked both students and their history teachers to discuss in pairs and write a short essay about the question ‘To what extent can Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler be compared?’ that was given together with a text claiming that there were many communalities. Whereas the discussions and essays of the student dyads hardly reflected historical reasoning, those of the teachers did. The reasoning of the teachers was informed by a rich historical knowledge base that enabled them to judge carefully the claims made in the text, for example, two teachers criticized the claim that both Hitler and Hussein knew a personality cult, by discussing several characteristic features of the personality cult of Hitler and bringing in an alternative comparison with the personality cult of Stalin. The teachers did not only focus on communalities (arguments in favour) but also on differences (arguments against), always contextualizing features of the reign of Hussein and Hitler. Domain-specific epistemological beliefs seemed to underlie their reluctance to compare persons from different times and places and their careful analysis of the historical context of each person.
Countries such as China and Singapore have used it to punish drug traffickers and therefore fuelled debate on how fitting the punishment is in such cases....
—. “How Wycliffite was the Bohemian Reformation?” Zdenek V. David and David R. Holeton, eds. The Bohemian Reformation and Religious Practice, vol. 2. Papers from the 18th World Congress of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences. Prague: Academic of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Main Library, 1998. 25-38.
—. Image, Text, and Reform in Fifteenth Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010. [According to the abstract, Gayk ” examines how a set of fifteenth-century writers, including Lollard authors, John Lydgate, Thomas Hoccleve, John Capgrave, and Reginald Pecock, translated complex clerical debates about the pedagogical and spiritual efficacy of images and texts into vernacular settings and literary forms. These authors found vernacular discourse to be a powerful medium for explaining and reforming contemporary understandings of visual experience. In its survey of the function of literary images and imagination, the epistemology of vision, the semiotics of idols, and the authority of written texts, this study reveals a fifteenth century that was as much an age of religious and literary exploration, experimentation, and reform as it was an age of regulation.”]
Jeep, Arminio. Gerson, Wiclefus, Hussus inter Se et cum Reformatoribus Comparati. Gottingen, 1857. [This essay, and the essay with the same title by Winkelmann, below, are results of a competition sponsored by the Theological Faculty of Gottingen. (2 mb)]
Kuhn et al. () relate the differences in level of argumentation to epistemological beliefs and discerns a progression of epistemological understanding. Initially, at the first level historians’ accounts of events are not distinguished from the events themselves: the subject focuses on statements about the events themselves, meta-statements about the accounts are rare, and two different accounts are not compared but information is added to provide a more complete version. In the second level, different accounts are seen as genuinely different: differences are attributed to wilful misrepresentation or bias on the part of one of the historians, and a neutral, third party is seen as capable of discerning the “truth.” Leadbeater and Kuhn (1989, in Kuhn et al.) found that only one quarter of sixth graders showed this second level of reasoning. In the third level subjects maintain that both accounts could be right, because everyone sees things from their own point of view: all accounts are regarded as opinions. This level appeared in the study of Leadbeater and Kuhn among ninth graders and became the most frequent stance by the twelfth grade. Furthermore, they observed two subsequent levels of reasoning among adults. At one level, an objective reality is regarded as ultimately known through critical evaluation of multiple accounts. At the other, the realm of facts exists only as interpreted by human observers and do not yield a single reality.
Research has shown that, although people in general are able to support their claims with arguments, even from a young age onwards (Stein and Miller ), weaknesses can be found in relation to the generation of different types of arguments (Voss and Means ), taking into account of counterarguments, and weighing of different theories (Kuhn ). Research in the domain of history shows the same pattern. For example, Pontecorvo and Girardet () found that discussions between 9-year old students, who were asked to reach agreement about a historical claim, largely consisted of claims and justifications for these claims. Our own findings in a study on writing argumentative texts in history showed that most students (pre-university level) only mentioned several arguments in support of their claim, with hardly any counterarguments given, and with no weighing of arguments pro and contra (Van Drie et al.). In their study of children’s changing ideas about historical evidence between the ages of seven to fourteen, Lee and Ashby () also found that students often treated sources as information and only used the information which supported their claim. Spoehr and Spoehr () argue that taking into account counterarguments is a very difficult aspect of reasoning in the domain of history.
Because historical accounts are based upon various kinds of sources that often contain partial and contradictory information and because historical interpretations are not definite, assertions and claims about the past must be supported by rational arguments, which, in turn, should be based upon well-evaluated evidence. Historical reasoning does not mean just giving an opinion or a viewpoint; it is the arguments and evidence used to support the opinion that counts (cf. Barton and Levstik ; Spoehr and Spoehr ). The skill of argumentation is, therefore, fundamental to historical reasoning (cf. Voss and Means ). Reasoning in the domain of history can be considered as informal reasoning. Contrary to formal reasoning, informal reasoning is related to ill-structured problems. Conclusions are reached on the basis of weighing arguments and evidence. They are never definite, but only more or less probable, as new evidence can alter these probabilities (Kuhn ; Voss et al.). Voss et al. mention three criteria for evaluating the soundness of informal reasoning. These criteria include (a) whether the reasoning providing support is acceptable or true, (b) the extent to which the reason supports the conclusion, and (c) the extent to which an individual takes into account reasons that support the contradiction of the conclusion, also known as counter argumentation. In relation to argument-based reasoning in history, Perfetti et al. () maintain that sound reasoning requires awareness that (a) arguments require evidence, (b) evidence is documented, and (c) documents are not equal in their privilege as evidence. The process of argumentation is, thus, closely related to the use of sources.
A good persuasive essay will consider the counterarguments and find ways to convince readers that the opinion presented in your essay is the preferable one.
In this article a framework of historical reasoning was presented. This framework aimed at gaining more insight into historical reasoning and its’ different components and at assisting the analysis of historical reasoning in the context of history education. Six components of historical reasoning were distinguished: (a) asking historical questions, (b) using sources, (c) contextualization, (d) argumentation, (e) using substantive concepts, and (f) using meta-concepts. From the literature on the components of historical reasoning we conclude that skilled historical reasoning can be described as reasoning which reflects contextualization or taking into account the historical period and setting, the use of substantive and meta-concepts to describe, compare, and explain historical phenomena, and sound argumentation based on a careful inspection and evaluation of available sources.