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While the words clue, evidence, and detective might not be the first words you associate with history, the idea of history as a mystery to be solved by historian-detectives has a substantial and lively past. That is because the analogy of a historian to a detective solving a mystery is a strong one. Both historians and detectives try to answer the same question: What happened? Both work with evidence from the past to create a plausible narrative using only fragments left behind. Both engage in inferencing as a means of learning from evidence. Both are problem solvers.

In this article, we look at the implications of the history-mystery analogy for educators and young readers. We argue that presenting history as mystery provides a window on historical thinking that enables readers to consider what it means to "do" history. That means we must consider history as an investigative process that is much more than simply remembering or chronicling past events or drawing on the words of past authorities. To do this, we first look at how historians and educators have explored the history-mystery analogy in the past. Second, we focus on establishing a lens for reading historical nonfiction mysteries with children that is based on the concepts associated with historical thinking. Third, we apply these concepts to two accounts of finding "typhoid Mary" -accounts that emphasize the history-mystery analogy. We conclude by making specific suggestions for using history mysteries in the classroom.


Originally published as: "How History as Mystery Reveals Historical Thinking: A Look at Two Accounts of Finding Typhoid Mary." Language Arts, March 2017, vol., 94, no. 4, pp. 234-244.



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