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Home > Foundations > National Standards for History > Standard 1

Historical Thinking Standard 1: Chronological Thinking


Chronological thinking is at the heart of historical reasoning. Without a strong sense of chronology--of when events occurred and in what temporal order--it is impossible for students to examine relationships among those events or to explain historical causality. Chronology provides the mental scaffolding for organizing historical thought.

In developing students’ chronological thinking, instructional time should be given to the use of well-constructed historical narratives: literary narratives including biographies and historical literature, and well-written narrative histories that have the quality of “stories well told.” Well-crafted narratives such as these have the power to grip and hold students’ attention. Thus engaged, the reader is able to focus on what the narrator discloses: the temporal structure of events unfolding over time, the actions and intentions of those who were there, the temporal connections between antecedents and their consequences.
In the middle and high school years, students should be able to use their mathematical skills to measure time by years, decades, centuries, and millennia; to calculate time from the fixed points of the calendar system (BC or BCE and AD or CE); and to interpret the data presented in time lines.

Students should be able to analyze patterns of historical duration, demonstrated, for example, by the more than two hundred years the United States Constitution and the government it created has endured.

Students should also be able to analyze patterns of historical succession illustrated, for example, in the development, over time, of ever larger systems of interaction, beginning with trade among settlements of the neolithic world; continuing through the growth of the great land empires of Rome, Han China, the Islamic world, and the Mongols; expanding in the early modern era when Europeans crossed the Atlantic and Pacific, and established the first worldwide networks of trade and communication; and culminating with the global systems of trade and communication of the modern world.

The student thinks chronologically, therefore, the student is able to:

A. Distinguish between past, present, and future time.

B. Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story: its beginning, middle, and end (the latter defined as the outcome of a particular beginning).

C. Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives of their own: working forward from some beginning through its development, to some end or outcome; working backward from some issue, problem, or event to explain its origins and its development over time.

D. Measure and calculate calendar time by days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia, from fixed points of the calendar system: BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord") in the Gregorian calendar and the contemporary secular designation for these same dates, BCE (before the Common Era) and CE (in the Common Era); and compare with the fixed points of other calendar systems such as the Roman (753 BC, the founding of the city of Rome) and the Muslim (622 AD, the hegira).

E. Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.

F. Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration in which historical developments have unfolded, and apply them to explain historical continuity and change.

G. Compare alternative models for periodization by identifying the organizing principles on which each is based.