Overview of Historical Reasoning Processes

This lesson will review the historical reasoning processes students need to learn and practice. We outlined these skills from the AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework. According to the College Board, reasoning processes describe the cognitive operations that students will be required to apply when engaging with historical thinking skills. These reasoning processes ultimately help students begin to understand and create historical arguments in a process similar to that used by historians. We will address historical arguments later in this course.


“In history courses I took in school we read about history, talked about history, and wrote about history; we never actually did history. If we had learned basketball in this way, I would have spent years reading interpretations and viewpoints of great players, watching them play games, and analyzing the results of various techniques and strategies.”

Quote From a Teacher found in Stephane Levesque’s Thinking Historically


Historical reasoning is made up of skills. And, like basketball skills, historical reasoning needs to be practiced. Before we practice using these processes in the next module, use the tabs below to review the individual historical reasoning processes.

What is Contextualization?

It connects historical events and processes to specific circumstances of time and place and to broader regional, national, or global processes. Proficient students should be able to explain and evaluate ways in which specific historical phenomena, events, or processes connect to broader regional, national, or global processes occurring at the same time. And explain ways in which a phenomenon, event, or process connects to other similar historical phenomena across time and place.


Increased European immigration to the United States in the period from 1865 to 1900 provided an inexpensive labor force.

What is Comparison?

Comparison is when you describe, compare, and evaluate multiple historical developments within a society, one or more developments across or between different societies, and in various chronological and geographical contexts. Additionally, this skill involves identifying, comparing, and evaluating multiple perspectives on a given historical experience. Proficient students should be able to compare related historical development and processes across place, time, and/or different societies or within one society. Students should also be able to explain and evaluate multiple and differing perspectives on a given historical phenomenon.


Historians have often compared and contrasted the struggle by African Americans to achieve equal rights after the Civil War with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to better understand each development.

What is Historical Causation?

It’s when you identify, analyze, and evaluate the relationship among multiple historical causes and effects and to identify coincidence, causation, and correlation between events.
Proficient students should be able to compare causes and effects, including short- and long-term effects. Students should be able to analyze and evaluate the interaction of multiple causes and effects. And students should assess historical contingency by distinguishing between coincidence, causation, and correlation, as well as critiquing exciting interpretations of cause and effect.



What is Patterns of Continuity and Change over Time?

It’s when you recognize, analyze, and evaluate the dynamics of historical continuity and change over time of varying lengths, as well as the ability to relate these patterns to larger historical processes or themes. Proficient students should be able to analyze and evaluate historical patterns of continuity and change over time and connect patterns of continuity and change over time to large historical processes or themes.



Please Note

Using historical reasoning involves using historical thinking skills: developments and process, sourcing and situation, claims and evidence in sources, contextualization, making connections, and argumentation. In the next lesson, we will focus on the reasoning processes but don’t be surprised if you notice historical thinking skills addressed. As teachers, it’s our role to weave and balance these skills, all while delivering content.