Eleven key principles of history chosen by readers

The votes are in. From a list of 38 suggested possibilities, our readers were asked to choose 10 general principles of historical knowledge they considered most suitable for teaching to students in school. Identifying a sample set of enduring principles of history is a preliminary step in preparing to experiment with teaching such principles in classrooms.

General principles of knowledge form the basis of learning in school subjects other than history and in virtually all productive human endeavors. General principles of history (which might also be termed historical tendenciesrecurring patterns in history, or lessons of history) are a key component of Future-Focused History teaching, which is designed to fulfill the fundamental purpose of education by imparting knowledge useful in the future

Four principles of history tied for first place in our survey, and seven tied for second place, leaving us with a recommended list of 11 key principles of historical knowledge. Fourteen people participated in the survey, casting 119 votes. While the 11 leading picks represented only 29% of available selections, they garnered 53% of votes cast, indicating solid support for these choices.

Teachers wishing to experiment with bringing Future-Focused History into their classrooms now have a curated set of general principles they can draw from. Teachers may wish to teach any or all of these principles or to teach other principles of their own choosing. Next, we can consider how principles of history might be taught effectively.

ELEVEN SAMPLE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE CHOSEN BY READERS:

  • Humans have long manifested an instinctual yearning to explore, to learn, and to develop new technologies to improve their lives.
  • People tend to promote their self-interest and the interest of their group, so bias is all around us.
  • Humans tend to position themselves along a political spectrum that ranges from conservative to liberal.
  • Major events usually result from multiple causes, some long-term and some more immediate.
  • Taking control of the media makes it possible to brainwash large numbers of people.
  • When a country’s government is toppled by internal revolution or an external enemy, civil war may break out as factions in the country compete to fill the power vacuum.
  • Humans exhibit an instinct to resist external control.
  •  Humans exhibit a propensity to fear, dislike, kill, subjugate, and discriminate against people from groups different than their own.
  • Government actions tend to produce unintended consequences.
  • Major cultures and empires have followed a general pattern of growth, flowering, and decline throughout history.
  • Mismanagement of the environment will be paid back by loss of resources.  

See also:
Mike’s five additional principles of history
Original list of 38 suggested principles of history
More about general principles of history
The power (and peril) of generalization
“Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion”

4 thoughts on “Eleven key principles of history chosen by readers”

  1. Interesting; thanks.

    I was thinking of your work on principles of history when the Washington Post broke the story of the “Afghanistan Papers” – our 18-year record of covering up our foolishness in Afghanistan.

    The historical events described in the Afghanistan Papers, as in the Pentagon Papers before them, would seem to fit squarely in the principle of “Government actions tend to produce unintended consequences.” Did I miss the publication of the “Iraq Papers,” which would tell the same story about our adventure in Iraq?
    Tom

    1. Yep. When you’re aware of the concept of “principles of history,” you tend to see them popping up in various places. Our experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq suggest additional principles of history such as “people tend to resist external control,” and “many or most military invasions of distant lands fail over the long term,” and “leaders try to get their way by appealing to the emotions of their followers,” and “leaders often try to justify foreign invasions by claiming to be helping the people they invade,” and so on…

Leave a Reply to Mike Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s