History surrounds us everywhere, everything and everyone has a history. While history is about the past, history does not equal the past. Indeed, because we can never go back to the past, history is our way of interpreting and understanding it.

What is history? What is the past? What is the difference between them? What is historical research? What methods and skills do historians use to think historically? How do we derive meaning from history?


  • Understand historical thinking skills and how historians deal with the past

Time and Materials

90 mins

  • Flip chart papers
  • A4 paper
  • Markers (different colors)

Write the quote by Dr. Kamal Salibi on the board or flip chart:

“In the final analysis, history is not merely a search for knowledge. It is also a search for understanding […] To be socially meaningful and useful, it has to be given all the relevant dimensions (Salibi, 234).”


Warm-up (10 minutes):

We introduce the quotation of  Dr. Kamal Salibi that is written on the board and the group reflects on its meaning and the difference between the search for knowledge and the search for understanding.

Guiding Questions:

  • What do we understand from this sentence?
  • What might Salibi mean by saying that history is also a search for understanding?
  • What might Salibi mean by “all the relevant dimensions”?


Group Work (20 minutes):

Participants are split into four groups, and each group is given a copy of Handout 1: History and Historical Thinking. Each group takes one main question that includes a set of sub-questions to inspire discussion.

They can use the internet for definitions to start the thinking process.

Each group prepares a flip chart presentation.


Group Presentations (30 minutes):

Each group presents their findings for 5 minutes followed by reflection with all participants.


Working in Pairs  (10 minutes):

We distribute Handout 2: Historical Thinking Skills and each pair reads and discusses the methods and tools that historians use to deal with the past.


Plenary Discussion (20 minutes):

We go through the historical thinking skills together, and pairs volunteer to  present one of the historical thinking skills and discuss its meaning with the rest of the group.

We write the title of the four methods on an A4 paper and post it in a visible location on the room walls in order to refer to it in subsequent sessions.

Notes and Tips for the Facilitator

Sources and Further Reading

Salibi, Kamal. A House of Many Mansions: A History of Lebanon Reconsidered (London: IB Tauris & Co. Ltd, 1988), p. 234.

Tonkin, Elizabeth. Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Lowenthal, David. The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

“Historical Thinking Skills.” The AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework (New York: The College Board, 2014), pp.11-19.

“Historical Thinking Skills.” The American Historical Association.