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Key concepts

Key concepts are the big ideas and understandings that we hope will remain with our students long after they have left school.

The key concepts or big ideas in history

Authentic understanding in history comes from developing a grasp of the key concepts and underlying key historical events, themes, and issues.


Historians weigh the importance, durability, and relevance of events, themes, and issues in the past and the appropriateness of using the past to provide contemporary lessons; historians debate what is historically significant and how and why the decisions about what is significant change.

Continuity and change

History examines change over time and continuity in times of change. Historians use chronology to place these developments in context. Historians debate what has changed, what has remained the same, and the impact of these changes.

Cause and effect

Historians investigate the reasons for and the results of events in history; they debate the causes of past events and how these events affect people’s lives and communities. Historians study relationships between events to identify pervasive themes, ideas, and movements, such as terrorism, revolution, and migration.


There are multiple perspectives on the past (both at the time and subsequently). Interpretations of the past are contested – historians base their arguments on historical evidence and draw from a variety of perspectives.

Last updated July 21, 2010