Learning to write history: the role of causality

Coffin, Caroline (2004). Learning to write history: the role of causality. Written Communication, 21(3) pp. 261–289.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0741088304265476


Historians generally agree that causality is central to historical writing. The fact that many school history students have difficulty handling and expressing causal relations is therefore of concern. That is, whereas historians tend to favor impersonal, abstract structures as providing suitable explanations for historical events and states of affairs, students often focus on human "wants and desires." The author argues that linguistic analysis can offer powerful insights into how successful students use grammar and vocabulary to build different types of causal explanations as they move through secondary schooling. In particular, the author shows how functionally oriented linguistic analysis makes it possible to discriminate between "narrative" and "analytical" explanations, to distinguish between "enabling" and "determining" types of causality, and to reveal the value of assessing degrees of causal impact.

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