To support an interpretation in a history paper, students must be aware of what needs to be demonstrated to make their thesis credible. Like so many disciplinary actions, this is so automatic to historians, that this skill is rarely taught.
Therefore, I set out to show students how I would go about deciding what I needed to show my readers to convince them that a particular thesis was credible. Here are the steps that I went through in class to model this skill.
- I organized the lesson around the metaphor of buying a car, and asked my students what they would do to determine whether the claims of a dealer were convincing.
- Then I presented them with a historical interpretation concerning material from the course that I was teaching
- I presented them with an interpretation that offered an explanation of a historical development that we were covering in the course. (At the same time that I was showing students how to operate historically, I was also reinforcing their understanding of the subject matter.)
- I went through the interpretation line by line, indicating what I would need to demonstrate to readers to convince them that that part of the interpretation was credible.
- I then presented with an alternative interpretation of the same historical developments and asked the students to suggest evidence that might make each hypothesis seem more likely. (This reinforced the notion that history was about evaluating conflicting possible interpretations, and it gave them practice at matching evidence to a thesis.)
- I then presented them with a thesis about a different part of the course, and asked the students in teams to imagine an alternative explanation of the phenomenon. (Again I was reinforcing the idea that history was about considering alternate interpretations, and I was modeling the process by which students could imagine explanations of the material at hand, as an aid in deciding what they needed to argue in their papers.
Here are the PowerPoint slides that I used in this modeling exercise.