What is "history thinking?"
Well first, let’s talk about design thinking. Essentially, design thinking is both a method and a mindset—a road map for uncovering, defining, and addressing human needs. For more, take a look at this explainer video from the Harvard Business Review.
Over the past few decades, design thinking has grown into a field of its own, and individuals and organizations alike seek out books, courses, workshops, and consultants to help them “do” design thinking and to approach problems with the mindset of a designer.
But as teachers and practitioners of design are quick to stipulate, design needn’t be a fixed, cookie cutter process. We’re simply talking about a toolkit for approaching problems. So, as someone who was trained not in design but in cultural history, I wondered: how could we translate the key tools and methods of historians into a relatable, transferable, and broadly applicable toolkit that thinkers and doers in any field can use? Or, put another way: What is “history thinking?”
That's the Same Question.
Right! And you've landed on an effort to figure out an answer: The History Thinking Project. This is an open, crowdsourced project to define History Thinking: a toolkit that will help anyone who's seeking deep, broadly contextualized insight into the past in order to better understand the present and future.
Where do we start?
Rules. More precisely, we'll need some foundational principles. What are the most basic and necessary rules for history thinking? As a potential model, Cristoph Meinel and Larry Leifer laid out four basic rules for design thinking in 2011:
1. The Human Rule: All design activity is ultimately social in nature.2. The Ambiguity Rule: Design thinkers must preserve ambiguity.3. The Re-design Rule: All design is re-design.4. The Tangibility Rule: Making ideas tangible always facilitates communication. Source
So what would the rules for history thinking look like? Naming them can come later, but here are a few possibilities to get us started:
- Build on existing expertise, and be guided and inspired by relevant historical work- Seek broad context: social, political, economic, geographic, etc.- Beware of presentism: don't let your sense of how the story ends predetermine what you find.- Clearly define, and redefine when necessary, the question you're trying to answer.
So how do I get involved?
Lend your ideas to the mix! Click the Share an Idea button to contribute a “rule" or idea for history thinknig. The next stage of the project will be to collect these suggestions into a set of guiding principles and make them freely available. But in the meantime, you’re welcome to have a look at the raw survey results (via Google Docs) here.
Please note that your submissions will be publicly accessible via the Google Doc link above, so please don’t submit your contact info. If you’d like to get in touch with me directly, you can do so via Twitter, or email: aaron[at]historiai.co.
Thanks for joining the conversation!
You can find more of my work at Historiai