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Open Access Qualifying counterfactuals: Students' use of counterfactuals for evaluating historical explanations

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The study investigates upper secondary school students' use of counterfactual reasoning when engaging in a task concerning historical explanation. The study analyses student answers to a prompt asking them to evaluate the causal importance of a historical actor for a historical event, aiming to characterize the counterfactuals used, as well as applying possible criteria for what can be considered a qualified counterfactual. The criteria for qualification of counterfactuals are based on theoretical proposals about the potential of counterfactuals in relation to historical explanation. The findings indicate that a majority of the students involved use counterfactuals in their reasoning about explanatory importance, most of them employing counterfactual reasoning in relation to the historical actor. The analysis of qualification indicates that student reasoning becomes more qualified when students instead focus on structural factors, include both structures and actors in their counterfactual reasoning, or support their reasoning by making comparisons.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The History Education Research Journal (HERJ) is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the global significance and impact of history education. It covers all aspects of history education theory, scholarship, and pure and applied research. Articles illuminate contemporary issues, concerns, policies and practice, drawing upon the eclectic research methodologies of history education. The journal is published in partnership with the Historical Association.

    HERJ is a relaunch of the International Journal of Historical Learning Teaching and Research. All past issues up to and including vol. 15, no. 1 were published under this title. HERJ vol. 15, no. 2 is the first to be published by UCL IOE Press.
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