HABITS OF MIND IN WORLD HISTORY
By now it should be clear that world historians have a vigorous commitment to making as sure as possible that many people know some vital facts about the global past. An educated public should know something about the emergence and impact of the key religions; they should understand the implications of the move to an agricultural and then an industrial economy. They should grasp major phases in the patterns of contact among diﬀerent regions and, in more modern times, the development of outright global institutions and patterns. And the list could go on considerably. Being an educated person in today’s world, and having the information needed to operate eﬀectively in that world, requires some speciﬁc knowledge. World history, however, is more than fact lists. Indeed, even the
facts won’t help much if they can’t be rearranged, combined and used in active analysis. So world historians, along with other historians and educators, have been working with increasing focus on what kinds of habits of mind should be developed within and as a result of a world history program. Students need to be aware of identifying and illustrating these skills and habits in order to make the most out of a world history program at any level. Diﬀerent compilations inevitably generate diﬀerent lists of skill
sets, but in fact there are no huge disputes and some of the variation is largely a matter of labeling. Overall, it’s best to think of world historical mental habits in three categories: ﬁrst, and quickly, some basic goals in which world history students participate along,
hopefully, with students in lots of other courses in many disciplines. Second, some thinking skills that attach to historical analysis in general. One eminent educator has argued that thinking historically is an “unnatural act,” but whether that’s true or not it is obviously the case that many students don’t come to a program with innate abilities to think as historians do and it is also (if less obviously) the case that their overall analytical capacities will improve if they do learn to think that way. And ﬁnally, third, there are two or three habits of mind that speciﬁcally attach to world history, and these warrant separate and explicit attention.