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Historical Argumentation: Watching Historians and Teaching Youth

Fri, April 22, 8:00 to 9:30am PDT (8:00 to 9:30am PDT), Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, Floor: South Building, Level 1, Pacific Ballroom 18


The purpose of this poster is to share current research related to the social nature of historical argumentation—both written and spoken arguments. Much has been written about the cognitive processes involved in historical argumentation (for a thorough review see Author, 2018). But less research has been conducted on historians’ and history students’ social interactions as they produce, share, and critique historical arguments. Still, enough research has been conducted on the topic to understand some aspects of historians’ interactions and to have a sense of instruction that helps young people interact in appropriate ways when crafting arguments.

Our theoretical framework is based upon disciplinary literacy, the notion that reading, thinking, and writing take on unique characteristics within each discipline (Draper, et al., 2010; Moje, 2008). We propose that just as disciplinary literacy involves unique cognitive activities, disciplinary literacy takes on unique forms of social interaction—historians engaging with other historians and with human-produced evidence during historical inquiry. Within classrooms, students engage with peers, teachers, and evidence as they craft, defend, and critique spoken and written historical arguments.
To elaborate, the social nature of historical argumentation is evident in the work of historians. Like other academicians, they must be familiar with what others say before they know how to add to the conversation (Graff et al., 2015). They immerse themselves in the work of other historians as they craft questions to guide their inquiries. Historians’ first argument is always a justification for their research, which is substantiated by showing that the work that others have done omits important factors, includes inaccuracies, excludes important perspectives, ignores vital evidence, or otherwise inadequately explores the topic. Historians’ argumentative work is a direct response to other historians, with the expectation that it will draw an argumentative response back from them in an ongoing conversation (Author, 2019). Additionally, historical research relies upon human-produced evidence. As such, historians must address human insights, perspectives, emotion, and foibles as they evaluate imperfect, fragmented, and contradictory accounts and traces (Wineburg, 1991). Historians view evidence as extensions of the individuals who produced it.

Researchers have developed and tested instructional strategies intended to help young people produce spoken and written historical arguments. Many of these strategies leverage students’ social interaction with the teacher and peers to support them as they gain expertise. The most successful instructional models use cognitive apprenticeships. In a series of studies, Author and colleagues have built cognitive apprenticeships that give students temporary structure and support as they both independently and collaboratively analyze historical evidence and use that evidence to substantiate claims during discussion and in writing. (Author et al., 2012, 2017; Author, 2016). Collectively, these have shown improved learning outcomes for students from historically marginalized communities to demonstrate improved reading and writing.
We suggest that researchers pay greater attention to the social nature of historical argumentation, conducting research that examines the interplay between cognitive and social factors as young people learn to produce spoken and written historical argumentation.