Car flipped on road.

The historian, like the insurance investigator, sifts through evidence to determine the causes of events — often from a multitude of possibilities. Unlike the investigator, though, the historian is also interested in the event’s consequences. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

Cause and Consequence

In examining both tragedies and accomplishments in the past, we are usually interested in the questions of how and why. These questions start the search for causes: what were the actions, beliefs, and circumstances that led to these consequences?

In history, as opposed to geology or astronomy, we need to consider human agency. People, as individuals and as groups, play a part in promoting, shaping, and resisting change.

People have motivations and reasons for taking action (or for sitting it out), but causes go beyond these. For example, the Vancouver anti-Chinese riot of 1887 certainly involved the racial attitudes and motivations of the white workers who rampaged. Did the workers cause the riot? In some sense they did. But the causes must be set in the larger context of employers paying Chinese workers a fraction of the regular wage rate and the desperate situation of Chinese Canadian workers after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Causes are thus multiple and layered, involving both long-term ideologies, institutions, and conditions, and short-term motivations, actions and events. Causes that are offered for any particular event (and the priority of various causes) may differ, based on the scale of the history and the approaches of the historian.

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections