Understanding Continuity and Change for Better Historical Analysis


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Historians use “continuity and change” to refer to aspects of life or society that have remained the same (continuity) or developed over time (change). It is a fundamental skill in the historian’s toolkit. There are four tasks when using continuity and change. We must identify, analyze, evaluate, and describe. We use other historical skills along the way.  

Historical Skills 

History is the study of our past and present. We learn about fascinating people and events. 

There is also an additional step, which is very important for a historian. It involves explaining what happened. Why did it happen? How do people and events over time relate to each other? 

Historical skills provide the tools to make sound arguments and express them clearly and in a convincing fashion. Continuity and change is one such helpful tool.  

What Is Continuity And Change? 

Historians use “continuity and change” to refer to aspects of life or society that have remained the same (continuity) or developed over time (change). These concepts work together.

Different things that continue over time are traditions and cultural values, political and societal systems, and economic policies. The United States had three branches of government for over two hundred years. Nonetheless, each branch has changed, including a more powerful president.

Basic Tasks

There are four basic tasks when applying continuity and change. 

Identify 

We need to recognize what has stayed the same and developed over time. The past can be a confusing place. We study the Roman Empire, which spanned hundreds of years. 

For simplicity’s sake, history lessons often provide aspects that stay the same over time. Nonetheless, several things changed for such a long period. We need to identify the two different categories. You can make a list. The whys and hows can wait. 

The first step allows us to enjoy the details. History contains fascinating people and events. We can appreciate and respect these while having a more in-depth understanding. 

Analyze 

An analysis is a detailed examination of the elements of something. A person goes to a therapist to analyze their problems. Historians are also concerned with the “how” and “why.” 

We analyze continuity and change in various ways. Categories include type, speed, and extent. We can compare and contrast events in different decades

Racial discrimination continued during WWII even as African Americans played a heroic role. Individual accomplishments did not erase the continuation of racism. Nonetheless, WWII provided some openings for racial advancement. The extent of racism changed somewhat.  

Historians try to discover the reasons why. Why did the power of the American president change over time? For instance, what role did modern warfare and technology play? 

Evaluate 

An evaluation is a judgment call. An employer evaluates an employee’s work to determine how well they are doing their job. A historian evaluates to determine “so what?” 

Historical fundamentals apply here. We use sources, keeping in mind their point of view and biases. Historical context shows us that people act and believe differently depending on when and where they live. All of these things factor in when we evaluate history.

The assessment of continuity and change involves examining patterns over time. Historians fit specific events into context. How did warfare change over time? How did it stay the same? What are the reasons why this is so? An evaluation is a historical summary.  

Describe 

The final task involves explaining what you identified, analyzed, and evaluated. 

A principal tool is the historical essay. A historical essay answers a question or addresses a specific topic. The format is like a sandwich: a body cushioned between the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. A student applies this task to address continuity and change. 

A historical essay would identify patterns, describe the importance of specific persons and events, and explain how they relate to broader themes. 

For instance, what changed and stayed the same before and after the American Revolution? The answer would differ depending on the categories, period examined, and other factors. 

History skills are a fundamental aspect of describing continuity and change. Nonetheless, you also need to apply the skills of a good writer. Someone can know all about history and have problems explaining what they know. Good writing is a fundamental tool in the historian’s toolkit.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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