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History's Frameworks

The chronological narrative provides the basic structure for history. Big Ideas make learning history meaningful and compelling. Some examples that can serve as the center piece when organizing instruction are:

Big Ideas

  • Lust for wealth and power
  • Intolerance of cultural difference
  • Propensity for violence and warfare
  • Spiritual yearning
  • Desire for freedom
  • Love and altruism
  • Drive toward knowledge and advancement
  • Are humans basically good or evil?

Bradley Commission on History in Schools

Vital Themes and Narratives

1. Civilization, cultural diffusion, and innovation

2. Human interaction with the environment

3. Values, beliefs, political ideas, and institutions

4. Conflict and cooperation

5. Comparative history of major developments

6. Patterns of social and political interaction

The Broad Forces of History

  • INVENTION, involves language, learning, planning-ahead, natural resources, technology, religion, art, agriculture, government, philosophy, law, science
  • DIFFUSION, involves geography, learning, exploration, travel, trade, migration, warfare
  • ORGANIZATION, involves geography, regions, language, learning, planning-ahead, job specialization, waterways, irrigation systems, roads and other public works, trade, social hierarchies, government, civilization, tribes, nation-building, empire-building, communications, law, organized religions, armies and other institutions
  • POWER, involves greed, war, oppression, slavery, servitude, ethnic conflict, racism, gender, nationalism, imperialism, empire-building
  • FREEDOM, involves revolt, democracy, suffrage, liberalism, nationalism, independence movements
  • DISINTEGRATION, involves warfare, conquest, disease, cultural and institutional rigidity, civil unrest and the decline of organizational structures including governments, countries, empires, cultures, and civilizations

Organizing Themes

◆ Themes: transportation, growth of democracy, scientific advancements

◆ Periods: American Revolution, Greek civilization, the 1960s

◆ Places: local history, Lexington and Concord, cities, countries, regions

◆ Movements: woman suffrage, civil rights, revolutions

◆ Notable figures: George Washington, Cleopatra, Caesar, Alexander the Great

◆ Events: Gettysburg Address, bombing of Pearl Harbor

◆ Technological advancements: wheel, movable type, combustion engine, computer

◆ Topics: history of baseball, the navy, sailing ships, immigration, Native American history, slavery Major Interpretations of History.

Modes of Interpetation

There are a number of fundamental ways in which history can be interpreted.

◆ Great figures emphasizes the impact of individuals on history. The approaches frequently attributed to Plutarch (45–125 C.E.), who chronicled the lives of well-known Romans and the roles they played in Roman civilization.

Great challenges focuses on the rise and fall of great civilizations based on their responses to new ideas or technology. Western Roman civilization and the Eastern Byzantine response to Christianity are examples of this interpretation. British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889–1975) is credited with developing this perspective.

◆ Irresistible forces proposes that ideas can become movements that eventually overcome prevailing institutions. The civil rights movement of the 1960s or the Moslem sweep of the Arab world are examples. Herbert Spencer (1820–1895) applied Darwin’s theory of evolution to societies, showing how they evolved through internal and external conflict. He theorized that the groups and societies that adapt the best lead in the development of humankind.

◆ Dialectical determinism proposes that an old idea (thesis) will be countered by a new idea (antithesis), and that out of the conflict welcome new ideas that are a synthesis. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) developed this interpretation, and Karl Marx (1818–1893) applied it as material dialectic, proposing that history is primarily a struggle between economic classes.

◆ Geographical determinism emphasizes the role of geography in history. The influence of the westward movement in America on the adventurous bent of the American psyche, the different development of commerce and industry on the African continent because of lack of harbors and navigable rivers compared to the Americas, and England’s development as a sea power are examples of this theory. Frederick Jackson Turner’s(1861–1932) frontier thesis serves as the basis for looking at the role of geography in shaping history.



Teaching Elementary Social Studies: Strategies, Standards, and Internet Resources by James A. Duplass, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Bradley Commission on History in Schools, Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools, National Council for History Education,1988





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Standard 1: Chronological Thinking

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Standard 4: Historical Research Capabilities

Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

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