What is historically
Dimensions of Historical Significance
1. Significance depends on perspective and
the observer’s frame of reference.
What will be judged to be significant may vary depending upon an
individual’s or group’s perspective/bias.
2. Significance is more than a matter of personal reaction.
When determining significance it is not sufficient to rely on an
individual’s or group’s felt reactions to an event.
Although significance is influenced by one’s perspective, events
that have the greatest felt effects are not necessarily the most
3. Significance depends on purpose.
The significance of an event depends upon its role in the larger
narrative or story the historian is attempting to tell
4. Significance varies with time.
The significance of an historical event may not be fixed in
time but may moderate depending on subsequent events and
5. Significance depends on context.
An event that is significant in one context may not be as significant
in another context
The mass demonstrations that unfolded
simultaneously across the globe on the
weekend of February 15-16, 2003 will live
in history.-World Socialist Website
Challenges in determining
•Frame of reference
•Different criteria for events, individuals, objects
•Quality of evidence
Read a source for evidence vs for knowledge
Identify type of source
Identify author and possible frame of reference
Reveals information about purposes of the author
as well as author’s values
Needs to be read in historical
Criteria for determining significance
Audience suggests criteria
What is the most significant?-student
Pieces of son’s hair
Thanks from the King
Some suggested criteria
What makes an event significant is dependent upon
the following factors:
* Importance – to people living at the time
* Profundity – how deeply people’s lives were
affected by it
* Quantity – how many lives were affected
* Durability – for how long people’s lives were
* Relevance – the extent to which the event has
contributed to an increased understanding of present
Christine Counsell’s model
An event/development is significant if they are: -
*Remarkable – it was remarked upon by people at
the time and/or since
*Remembered – it was important at some stage in
history within the collective memory of a group or
*Resulted in change – it had consequences for the
*Resonant– people like to make analogies with it;
it is possible to connect with experiences, beliefs
or situations across time & space
*Revealing – of some other aspect of the past
Ian Dawson’s model
Reasons for a person being significant.
*changed events at the time they lived.
*improved lots of people’s lives – or made them
*changed people’s ideas.
*had a long lasting impact on their country or
*had been a really good or a very bad example
to other people of how to live or behave.
Aspects of Significance
*resulting in change-deep consequences, for many people,
over a long period of time
*revealing-sheds light on enduring or emerging issues in
history and contemporary life or was important at some
stage in history within the collective memory of a group
(Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: A Framework for
Assessment in Canada, 2006)
Cause and Consequence
Key role of individuals as
Causes are related but are
distinguishable from motivations
Causes are layered
Identification of causes by historians can be
susceptible to historian’s frame of reference
Humans cause change but are restricted by the
natural environment, geography, historical legacies
Actions often have unintended consequences
Application-Think Pair, Share
Is the carpet significant?
Which event/individual/object was the most significant?
Priorize the events in order of significance
Which events or individuals will be considered
Why work with the concept?
The past vs history