Building New Course Structures

6 Teaching Undergraduate History: A Problem-Based Approach

Robert K. Poch and Eskender Yousuf


problem solving, historical thinking skills, learning assessment



Among the challenges that faculty encounter is facilitating active engagement with their discipline within classrooms of diverse undergraduate students (Calder, 2006; Rendon, 2009). We face this challenge regularly when teaching history. Within a mostly lecture-based format, it is easy to deny students opportunities to engage the discipline as historians.

While we concentrate primarily on the discipline of history, this approach can be applied within other disciplines where the aim is to provide diverse undergraduate students with the opportunity to “do” the work of those disciplines and find personal connection within them. Historians discover and use primary source documents, confront vexing contextual and interpretational problems, experience the diverse perspectives of peers, and so too can students. For many faculty, the temptation in undergraduate survey courses is to place full emphasis on content coverage and to ignore or minimize development of discipline-based skills (Calder, 2006; Sipress and Voelker, 2009). This produces poor results if our instructional goals include providing a more genuine experience with our discipline, developing analytic skills, and engaging students meaningfully (Weimer 2002). When students are passive recipients of disciplinary information with no apparent connection to themselves, they withdraw intellectually and emotionally (Freire 1970; Langer 1997).

However, it is possible for highly diverse students to experience the dynamic nature of disciplines such as history by “doing” – that is, by actively developing the skills and engaging the processes and problems involved in being a practitioner of the discipline (Sipress and Voelker, 2009; Weimer, 2002). This can happen in large and small classes and also in survey courses. We want students to encounter history as historians. We also want them to experience the excitement of historical discovery and personal meaning-making that first drew us into the work. In doing so, students also learn and retain substantive course content.

We focus below on a “problem-based” approach to teaching and learning history where students are active disciplinary practitioners engaged in addressing problem topics of relevance and connection to their diverse lives. In doing so, the following questions are addressed:

  1. What are some of the core elements of historical inquiry? What do skilled historians actually do?
  2. What actions encourage students from different cultural and disciplinary backgrounds to engage the core elements of historical inquiry as practitioners?
  3. How can course pedagogy, assignments, and assessments become consistent with what skilled historians do and foster student engagement?
  4. How can the results of these efforts be assessed? What are some of the assessment results from using a problem-based approach to learning history?

While we concentrate primarily on the discipline of history, this approach can be applied within other disciplines where the aim is to provide diverse undergraduate students with the opportunity to “do” the work of those disciplines and find personal connection within them (Gurung, Chick, and Haynie, 2009).

Identifying and Using Core Elements of Historical Inquiry

In creating learning environments where students become historians, it is necessary to consider what it is that historians do and what skills are necessary to be practitioners of the discipline. In a macro sense, many historians describe their work as problem solving guided by active questioning (Elton, 1967; Fischer, 1970; Marius and Page, 2005; Nevins, 1963). That is, questions are posed; sources and facts are collected, critically read, contextualized, and organized; and, an interpretation of the past is formed while recognizing that the complexities of history defy easy explanations (Ayers, 2006; Commager, 1965; Wineburg, 1991, 1999). Whenever possible, historians utilize primary sources to form their own interpretations rather than relying mostly on the interpretations of other historians.

Historians are regularly challenged to analyze, contextualize, and interpret the past from incomplete disparate sources. Such actions require a series of more discrete skills including the critical evaluation, interpretation, and communication of evidence; the detection of bias; and careful consideration of historical causation (Ayers, 2005; Barzun and Graff, 1977; Bloch, 1953; Carr, 1961; Commager, 1965; Elton, 1967; Evans, 1999; Fischer, 1970; Lerner, 1997; Nevins, 1963; Wood, 2008). These skills are expressed concisely as the “5Cs” of historical thinking: “change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency” (Andrews and Burke, 2007, 1).

Through using the 5Cs, students become increasingly aware of how much can change over time – such as political systems, landscapes, and social values – while, simultaneously, acknowledging retention of strong elements of the past such as holidays and the rituals surrounding them. Further, once developed through classroom engagement with historical sources, the elements of causality, context, complexity, and contingency enable students to identify and appreciate the incomplete nature of historical records and the intricate, simultaneous, and broad scale human interactions and competing interests in history (Ayers, 2006; Nevins, 1963; Wood, 2008). The awareness of complexity causes professional historians and students to probe more deeply into explanations of causality and to reject simplistic reasoning.

To have students engage history problems in a manner that is relevant and meaningful, it is necessary to also think carefully about how to invite students and their interests into the process of historical inquiry. While engineering, mathematics, physics and accounting are experienced as real, relevant, and practical, history is not experienced that way. Students often encounter it as an abstruse, fact-laden, memorization-based, irrelevant, impersonal discipline. We must, therefore, address how to engage students in being practitioners of historical inquiry and interpretation.These are some of the key components of the real work of historians and the historical reasoning used to create interpretations of the past. In working with undergraduate students – some of whom just graduated from high school – the 5Cs are a useful, understandable, and easy to remember toolset for engaging historical inquiry. With these parts of the work of historians and historical thinking in mind, it is possible to design classroom experiences that bring students into the dynamic nature of this work and its associated challenges. Students can then experience the discipline of history more fully and also learn how to create their own historical meaning from available sources (Sipress and Voelker, 2009). These components of historical thinking help to form the “history problems” that we utilize in our U.S. history classroom and which we describe further below.

However, to have students engage history problems in a manner that is relevant and meaningful, it is necessary to also think carefully about how to invite students and their interests into the process of historical inquiry. While engineering, mathematics, physics and accounting are experienced as real, relevant, and practical, history is not experienced that way. Students often encounter it as an abstruse, fact-laden, memorization-based, irrelevant, impersonal discipline. We must, therefore, address how to engage students in being practitioners of historical inquiry and interpretation.

Engaging Students in Core Elements of Historical Inquiry as Practitioners

The invitation to participate in our class, “America’s Past and Present: Multicultural Perspectives,” is underscored by bringing students into direct interaction with historical thinking skills, primary source materials that are reflective of multiple cultures on the American landscape, and with complex historical issues and problems that invite students to interpret history with their own voices rather than having a textbook or the instructor be the sole interpretive voices. We want students to gain more elegant and inclusive views of history that expose the complex dynamics between people over time and which stimulate curiosity about how life was experienced and interpreted by different diverse populations. This is enabled in part by the diversity of our students. The multiple complexities of persons in the past are reflected in our students. As observed by Lee, Poch, Shaw, and Williams (2012),

“…we have observed our institution’s student population become increasingly diverse in terms of racial and ethnic demographics. Historically, generalized categories of racial and ethnic identity have become more diffuse and complex. We are also more mindful of the often less visible forms of difference that are present in any learning environment, such as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and many others”

As students engage each other in class and discover how their classmates form different historical interpretations based in part on their different lived experiences, it stimulates and reinforces an understanding of the different perspectives and lived experiences of persons throughout history.

To better ensure the relevance of the history problems to diverse student interests, students are asked on the first day of the course what part of U.S. history between the Civil War and present time is of greatest interest to them. While some students do not know how to answer such a question at first, many others have some notion of their interests. Examples of these student responses from spring semester 2015 are as follows:

  • World War II
  • U.S. Civil Rights movements (including the role of youth in such movements)
  • Vietnam War
  • The Great Depression
  • The 1920s
  • 9/11 and its effect on the world
  • Space race
  • Other countries and perceptions of the U.S.
  • Native Americans and Tribes
  • Immigrants
  • Civil War & differing economies

When we, as instructors, are responsive to such interests, students more fully engage with the topics and are willing to invest the energy to do the challenging work of historical meaning-making using disciplinary thinking skills.These interests are invaluable in making the course ours – that is, a shared experience of historical investigation that reflects mutual interests rather than those of the instructor alone. It is a powerful opportunity to communicate to students at the beginning of the course that the instructors are engaged co-investigators of historical topics that the students suggest and that student interests are of great value. We use student historical interests to create substantive class discussion questions, short reading and writing assignments, and further engagement with historical thinking skills through lengthier history problems that come later in the semester. While assembling sources related to the interests, we spend the first three to four weeks of the course introducing and practicing the 5Cs of historical thinking. Initial reading and writing assignments selected before the course starts enable students to begin the process of understanding, recognizing, and using context, causality, complexity, change and continuity over time, and contingency. These historical thinking skills are then used to explore more deeply and intentionally the historical topics that students suggest. In doing so, student interests become integrated and useful parts of the course experience.

Students also tell us that they want to explore historical themes and issues that are not commonly approached in historical texts or rooted in fact memorization. For example, one student expressed in a topical interest survey that she wanted “…to learn the truth about history. The real original text. I want to find it and research it. Interest in causality and what caused all the events in history to happen? WHYYY! The reason things went down the way they did!” Students express that they want to explore the meaning and use of racism, the rise of feminism, and the perspectives of other nations whose histories intersect with those of the United States. They want to do so in a way that engages history through interesting questions full of encounters with ordinary people who experienced the past in powerful but mostly unknown ways. When we, as instructors, are responsive to such interests, students more fully engage with the topics and are willing to invest the energy to do the challenging work of historical meaning-making using disciplinary thinking skills.

Making Pedagogy, Assignments, and Assessments Consistent with what Historians Actually Do

Engaging students as historians takes careful thought and planning. Core elements of course design are important parts of this work. The course curriculum must provide space for the development of student evaluative and interpretive skills. This often comes with winnowing some course content as traditionally delivered through lengthy lectures (Calder, 2006). The process of winnowing involved using part of a summer break to critically review course materials to identify where unnecessary content was located that cluttered class time and reduced the capacity to develop student historical thinking skills. For example, a discussion of Civil War medicine and pro- and anti-U.S. imperialist arguments were removed given that they were peripheral to more important course themes. Further, those subjects tended to lead to more lecturing rather than active discussion. Rendon (1993) observed that “…many culturally diverse students do not learn best through lecture. Instead, we should focus on collaborative learning and dialogue that promote critical thinking, interpretation and diversity of opinion” (10).

Students can mine rich primary sources of the period as guided by research questions collaboratively developed by students and the instructor.Lectures are balanced with skill-building by doing – actively engaging students in learning how to develop researchable questions, engaging primary and secondary texts with critical lenses, forming interpretations from available evidence, and presenting results. Further, significant thought must be invested in designing course assignments and resources that enable skill development to occur and be assessed. Assessments must be constructed to evaluate student work in a manner consistent with skill development expectations. Class time invested in developing the foundational skills used within the discipline is necessary given that “…history teachers cannot
simply present students with documents, tell them what to do, and then expect magical gains in the development of students’ historical sense. Much more elaborate and carefully thought out ‘scaffolding’ is needed to realize the potential of this approach” (Calder et al., 2002, 59).

This approach has significant student developmental implications. It may involve moving students and the course structure away from a dualistic form of learning history where questions are framed in terms of right and wrong response outcomes and there is strong dependency upon the instructor. Instead, there will be movement toward a course design wherein students are met with formulating
questions within a course-related area of personal historical interest that has interpretive complexities associated within it (Donald, 2002, 3; Evans et al, 2010).

For example, rather than presenting students with a course design that asks them to identify within an exam three major outcomes of Reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War from lecture notes, students can experience the real problems of Reconstruction in depth by reading conflicting newspaper accounts in the North and the South regarding the political enfranchisement of African American men and the political balances of power that were at play (Langer, 1989). Rather than searching secondary and tertiary sources (such as many textbooks and lectures) alone for such information, students can mine rich primary sources of the period as guided by research questions collaboratively developed by students and the instructor. One research question that was developed in this manner focused on the tactics that some southern states utilized to stymie the voting capacity of black males following passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. In response, students were able to find and analyze different literacy tests for voting (the class even tried taking some of the tests which produced a high failure rate) and also details on the administration of poll taxes.

Such collaboration and student interpretive responsibilities can lead to movement from what psychologist Ellen Langer refers to as “mindlessness” wherein students are stuck with rote memorization and the search for the “right” answer rather than experiencing the rich contexts and possibilities that exist as part of the act of discovering and making meaning within disciplines (Langer, 1997). Langer notes that, “In math, teaching for understanding involves teaching students to think about what a problem means and to look for multiple solutions. Studies have confirmed that science is better taught through hands-on research and discovery than through memorization alone. In English, teaching for understanding means emphasizing the process of writing and exploring literature rather than memorizing grammar rules and doing drills. Understanding is encouraged in history by turning students into junior historians” (Langer, 1997, 71, 72). It is in that spirit that we developed history problems.

History Problems

 “As an interpretive historian using the primary source readings that are provided in this problem, how do you define Jim Crow?” This question, which seems deceptively simple at first, quickly exposes the complexities of Jim Crow as a comprehensive system within American society that touched every aspect of life.Each history problem is comprised of three essential parts: an introduction to the problem with concise contextual information; open-ended problem questions designed to provide students with interpretive space to utilize their voice and perspectives (rather than the instructor’s voice or that of the textbook); and a set of primary source materials that reflect diverse authors and views. Students are given three history problems throughout the semester and they have approximately four weeks to complete them given the complexity of the readings. Although there is no required page length for the problem responses, students often write seven pages or more for each problem. The history problems used during the Spring 2015 semester were based on student interests expressed at the beginning of the semester and involved the following topics: “The challenges of Jim Crow and the dynamics found within it;” “’Equal protection under the law:’ The challenges of separate but equal – The struggle for Brown v. Board of Education;” and, “September 11, 2001.”

The history problem questions provide students with the ability to create responses based on their own interpretation of the material. The questions replicate real challenges and problems for historians that are consistent with the 5Cs of historical thinking that we use in class. Some questions expose students to the complexities of powerful systems of racial oppression such as Jim Crow. Other questions focus on establishing context or examining change over time. For example, in the problem examining Jim Crow, students were asked the following: “As an interpretive historian using the primary source readings that are provided in this problem, how do you define Jim Crow?” This question, which seems deceptively simple at first, quickly exposes the complexities of Jim Crow as a comprehensive system within American society that touched every aspect of life.

To assist in developing a definition of Jim Crow, the history problem packet includes a variety of primary sources that include memoirs, excerpts from scholarly books and novels, and a 1949 travel guide for African American motorists. Within this particular problem packet, the sources included pieces from W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903); Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952); John Hope Franklin’s autobiography, Mirror to America (2005); Howard Thurman’s The Luminous Darkness: A Personal Interpretation of the Anatomy of Segregation and the Ground of Hope (1965); Richard Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children (1940); and, The Negro Motorist Green Book (1949). The Green Book was published to provide African American travelers with “…information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable” (1). These sources provided different views of and experiences with Jim Crow and, unlike a textbook, did not provide the definition and interpretation of Jim Crow for the students. Instead, the students worked with the different texts, situated them contextually in their particular time and place and with consideration of who wrote them, and gradually developed their own definition of Jim Crow. Further, the sources spanned a number of decades so that some consideration could be given to change over time in addition to complexity. The sources worked well in providing multiple perspectives of how Jim Crow, as a system, affected different parts of life and also a sense of the varieties of materials that historians use.

The same history problem also asked students to consider how the sources in the packet related to any prior readings we had used in the course (such as Frederick Douglass’ 1865 speech, “What the Black Man Wants”), so that students could further analyze and gain familiarity with context, change over time, complexity, contingency, and causality. Douglass’ speech was useful not only as an earlier expression of the challenges and contradictions that Jim Crow created within a nation that professed freedom and democracy, but also served as a source to explore the challenging concept of contingency. By expressing how black men wanted political participation through receipt of the right to vote and full recognition for their intellectual capacity to be informed contributors to democracy, Douglass’ speech highlighted contingencies necessary for breaking explicit bonds of enslavement and more diffuse societal systems of oppression. These varied course and problem-based primary sources enabled students to make complex connections between forms of evidence and further solidified historical thinking skills as expressed within the 5Cs. Providing approximately four weeks to work with each history problem gave plenty of in-class time to further discuss the sources, the context of the sources, and to practice the skills necessary to utilize them effectively.

Assessing the Results of Using a Problem-Based Approach to Learning History

We utilized several forms of assessment to evaluate the problem-based approach to learning history: 1) the evaluation of student written responses to history problems, 2) individual interviews with students, and, 3) an independently conducted end-of-semester student survey. In each assessment approach, it was important that student voices were prominent and listened to attentively (Patton, 1980). Each of these assessment forms is discussed below.

Written responses to history problems

Student written responses to the four history problems were evaluated carefully for progressive use of the elements of historical thinking. Each of the papers went through two evaluative reviews – one by the course teaching assistant and the other by the primary instructor. The papers were scored on a standard A-F grading scale and were preceded by smaller writing assignments that practiced discrete elements of five identified historical thinking skills. For example, the Frederick Douglass speech, “What the Black Man Wants,” was used early in the semester in part so students could practice establishing and expressing context and recognizing some elements of contingency. This was done with multiple other pieces of short reading and writing exercises that involved the voices and writing of diverse speakers and authors. With this practice experience in place, students could move with greater confidence in addressing contextual issues in the first history problem and those that followed. The papers were also useful in assessing student command or struggle with certain components of historical thinking. We discovered in multiple early papers that students did not fully understand the idea of contingency and, in response, were able to spend more time discussing and practicing it in class.

Toward the end of the semester as students worked with perhaps the most challenging history problem involving the September 11, 2001 attacks, we could detect that students were engaging in far more sophisticated historical reasoning and explicit use of historical thinking skills. For example, one student, a freshman, having studied the presence and role of the United States in the Middle East since the early twentieth-century (using maps, documents, interviews, reports, and political cartoons provided in the fourth history problem), constructed a complex contextual background in her written response to one set of the problem questions (“Using information from our class sessions and the materials provided within this problem packet, describe the relationships that existed and some of the events that occurred between the United States and the ‘Middle East’ region prior to 9/11. With these sources in mind, what are some of the possible motives for the 9/11 attack?”). She responded in part in her introduction,

The events of September 11th, 2001 came as a shock to millions of American citizens; however, a complex history of rocky foreign relations combined with the struggles regarding religion and government in the ‘Middle East’ suggest that the attack was only one part of several interconnected issues. As we examine the context of the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks, the complexity of the United States’ position in world affairs, the major causes leading up to the attack, and contingency of other nations’ histories on our own, we can begin to analyze the affect that each of these has had on the aftermath of 9/11 over time… [the] ten to fifteen years before the attacks on the Twin Towers… show a deeply complex relationship between different nations. While the Saudi Arabian government aided the United States [in the Gulf War by providing a U.S. military staging ground along the border with Kuwait] there were other entities such as Iraq that were pitted against the United States, resulting in conflict between the nations in that area regarding involvement of the United States. To add to this complexity is the idea of a theocracy and questions on how to rule a nation when military forces within those nations do not share the political philosophy or religious beliefs of those nations.

In this brief excerpt which was supported by lengthier supporting text and examples, we could easily detect the use of historical thinking skills (some of which were explicitly mentioned), including greater recognition of the deep complexities that long preceded the events of 9/11.

The written responses to the history problem questions were returned to the students with evaluative comments that served, in part, to prepare students for individual meetings with the course instructor and the graduate research assistant. With highly diverse students from different nations, it was important to provide different opportunities for the students to express how they approached the problems that extended beyond their written responses.

Individual meetings with students about the history problems

Individual student interviews were conducted on two of the problem set essays (history problems one and three). Each student was given the opportunity to schedule a conversation with us to discuss their responses and to further sharpen their historical thinking skills based on the 5Cs. During these meetings, the students could gain additional points (but no subtraction of points) by further clarifying their written responses and the processes that they used to construct them. The meeting questions were provided to each student in advance and included: Where did you encounter the greatest challenges in responding to this history problem? How did you approach the challenges? What do you believe you learned through engaging in this history problem? An opening question was designed to further probe each student’s writing by asking: “We found some engaging interpretations within your paper [if this was truthful] and also some places where we would like to know more. Can you further describe [this was customized for each student paper]….” The questions presented opportunities for students to further explain their own interpretations and how they approached the problems over time. Through the questions, students reflected on and expressed their own historical interpretations in a manner that replicates much of the way that historians utilize peers within their professional communities.

Within the second set of individual meetings on the third history problem, students began to express more of the 5Cs of historical thinking.During the first set of interviews regarding the “Challenges of Jim Crow and the dynamics found within it,” we met individually with twenty-three students who expressed a wide array of historical thinking skills. For example, one student, in expanding upon her interpretation of Jim Crow, remarked that developing her own definition of Jim Crow enabled her to “…go far below the surface to see the complexity of Jim Crow and its relationship to definitions of racism.” Further, the student explained that examining the use of Jim Crow-related art revealed to her the complex strategies of Jim Crow systems of oppression. Another student observed that reading primary source accounts of African Americans who lived within Jim Crow brought forth “contradictions” within the imagery and terms used within Jim Crow such as using ideas of “light” and “visibility” to describe American society while those who lived under the weight of Jim Crow described darkness, shadows, and invisibility. Within these comments, and many others, we observed students expressing different elements of historical thinking including complexity (very explicitly), as well as change over time, and causality as students considered and described the structures of Jim Crow messaging and how the messaging was delivered in different ways during specific spans of time.

Within the second set of individual meetings on the third history problem, students began to express more of the 5Cs of historical thinking. We used a slightly modified set of questions that included: Did you feel that you were able to utilize any particular historical thinking skills in this problem? Students commented more extensively and easily about historical thinking skills and demonstrated within their papers greater complexity in historical thinking. For example, one student expressed complex differences in how African American’s responded to racial oppression over time. She interpreted primary sources in the first history problem as being “defensive in nature – how persons responded or protected themselves within the Jim Crow system” whereas in the third history problem on the legal strategies that African American attorneys used to eventually prevail in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the strategy was “more offensive in nature in that it showed black persons taking back their rights and being more confident in doing so.” This student, and others, expressed greater awareness and mastery of complexity, causality, and change over time in their interpretations of primary historical source materials.

Independently conducted end-of-semester student survey

At the request of the instructor, a grant-supported survey was developed and given to students in the history course at the very end of spring semester 2015. Among those who responded to the survey (50% of a class of 24 first-year students where this problem-based approach was fully implemented), the following are representative of their responses:

Question: What parts of the course were particularly effective for you in developing historical thinking skills and the capacity to be an effective historian? What parts were particularly ineffective?

  • “The parts of this course that were effective in developing historical thinking skills were definitely the history problems and also the 5Cs. I learned so much through the history problems that I would have never learned through a test and I will remember the information much better by writing about it in a history problem. I didn’t feel like any part was ineffective.”
  • “The history problems were effective because they allowed us to give our own opinion on the matter and we got involved instead of just mindless memorization.”
  • “I think that the most effective things that we did in class to develop my historical thinking skills were definitely the problem sets and our class discussions. Both of those two platforms pushed us to think for ourselves and contribute to a larger group discussion. I loved the problem sets because they forced me to think and form my own opinions using the historical thinking skills that we were given.”
  • “The history problems really helped me see how contemporary historians actually applied their skills to modern problems.”

Question: Do you believe that you know and can apply the essential elements of historical thinking, as a result of this course? Please explain.

  • “Yes, I have already applied it to other classes and feel very comfortable doing it.”
  • “Yes, the history problems gave us that opportunity.”
  • “I do believe that I could apply the elements of historical thinking into other classes and in my everyday life as a historian. I feel confident that I know the 5Cs of historical thinking and could use them in other situations. They were drilled into us, I won’t forget them.”
  • “Yes. I believe that using the 5Cs from the beginning of this course helped me to gain further knowledge and also to help me dig deeper into historical problems and questions.”
  • “I definitely feel that this course has aided my skills in critical analysis and historical thinking and I can see how to use these skills in different contexts and subjects besides history.”

Student survey responses found that 1) history thinking elements of the 5C’s gave them a grasp of historical thinking skills; 2) established a process whereby students could formulate their own interpretations of historical sources thereby moving from mindless memorization to mindfulness and, 3) students were able to utilize their own lived experiences and interests as historians engaged in investigating historical problems.


The use of history problems in our course stems from a twofold purpose. First, we want students to experience the discipline of history as actively engaged historians who use primary sources in addressing challenging questions of historical interpretation through use of well-defined historical thinking skills. Second, we want to facilitate personal interaction with the discipline by using sources and stories that are reflective of the diversity of our students and enabling their interpretive voices to emerge and be respected in our assessments of their learning. Through the use of history problems, unlike our past exams, we noticed the disappearance of instructor voice in student interpretations of historical source materials and an increase in deliberate use of the 5Cs of historical thinking: context, change over time, contingency, complexity, and causality. Continued exploration of the use of history problems in developing more focused development of particular historical thinking skills will occur in our future work as will the capacity to assess those skills effectively through combinations of written work and in-person conversational interactions with students.


Andrews, T., & Burke, F. (2007). “What Does it Mean to Think Historically?” Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association 45 (1), 32-35. Washington, DC: American Historical Association.

Ayers, E. L. (2005). What caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and southern history. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

Barzun, J., and Graff, H. F. (1977). The modern researcher. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

Bloch, M. (1953). The Historian’s Craft. New York: Vintage Books.

Calder, L., Cutler, W. W., & Mills Kelly, T. (2002). “History Lessons: Historians and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” In M. T. Huber & S.P. Morreale (Eds.). Disciplinary styles in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Exploring common ground. (pp. 45-68). Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education & The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Calder, L. (2006). “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey.” The Journal of American History, 1358-1370. .

Carr, E. (1961). What is History? New York: Vintage Books.

Commager, H. S. (1965). The nature and the study of history. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc.

Deloria Jr., V., and Wildcat, D. R. (2001). Power and place: Indian education in America. Golden, CO: American Indian Graduate Center and Fulcrum Resources.

Donald, J. G. (2002). Learning to think: Disciplinary perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dubois, W.E.B. (1903). The souls of black folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co.

Ellison, R. (1952). Invisible man. New York: Random House.

Elton, G. R. (1967). The Practice of History. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company.

Evans, N. J., et al (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sonsn.

Evans, R. J. (1999). In Defense of History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Fischer, D. H. (1970). Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: HarperPerennial.

Franklin, J. H. (2005). Mirror to America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Penguin Books.

Guring, A.R.; Chick, N. L.; and Haynie, A., eds. (2009). Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Reagan Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Ladson-Billings, G. (Autumn, 1995). “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3, 465-491.

Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Langer, E. J. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Lerner, G. (1997). Why History Matters. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marius, R., and Page, M. E. (2005). A Short Guide to Writing about History. New York: Pearson Longman.

Nevins, A. (1963). The Gateway to History. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Patton, M. Q. (1980). Qualitative Evaluation Methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Rendon, L. I. (2009). Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Rendon, L. I. (February 1993). “Validating Culturally Diverse Students.” Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of the Community College Chairs, Phoenix, Arizona.

Sipress, J. M., and Voelker, D. J. (2009). “From Learning History to Doing History.” Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Reagan A.R. Guring, Nancy L. Chick, and Aeron Haynie, eds. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

The Negro Motorist Green Book (1949). New York: Victor H. Green & Co., Publishers. Accessed at:

Thurman, H. (1965). The Luminous Darkness: A Personal Interpretation of the Anatomy of Segregation and the Ground of Hope. New York: Harper & Row.

Wineburg, S. (1991). “Historical Problem Solving: A Study of the Cognitive Processes

Wineburg, S. (March 1999). “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 80, No. 7, pp. 488-499.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wood, G. (2008). The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. New York: The Penguin Press.

Wright, R. (1940). Uncle Tom’s Children. New York: Harper & Brothers.


Facilitation and evaluation of this project was enabled by the invaluable support and guidance of Ilene Alexander, Jeff Lindgren, and J.D. Walker. We also acknowledge the work and influence of the following excellent undergraduate teaching assistants who, over the last seven years, contributed to the development, implementation, and the strengthening of the problem based approach to teaching and learning: Emily DePalma, Emily McCune, Julianna Ryburn, Jade Beauclair Sandstrom, and Chris Stewart