We often hear about “the economy” in the news as if it’s a mysterious and unpredictable force in our lives, but an economy is simply a system of how money changes hands and how goods and services are bought and sold. The economy is an essential part of society, so understanding what it is and how it impacts our daily lives allows us to adapt to economic changes using agility and problem solving.
In this challenge, we’ll explore present-day economic concerns by relating them to economic crises in U.S. history and exploring possible preparations and solutions. We will examine past economic downturns—the Great Recession of 2008, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Energy Crisis of the early 1970s, and the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s—to understand how they affected people’s lives and how people survived them. Those who lived through these particularly challenging times had to be agile—adaptable, resourceful, and quick-thinking—to support themselves and their families through economic hardship.
As an important step in looking to the past to find solutions in the present, we’ll also examine how historians approach problem solving by using reliable sources to inform their solutions. And like historians, we too will learn how to evaluate potential sources to make sure they’re both trustworthy and closely related to what we’re investigating. Evaluating a source allows you to understand and apply information more effectively, making the source a powerful tool for problem solving.
Problem Solving: Why Employers Care
Historians also use their problem solving skill to find answers to questions they have about the past. But historians solve problems in a particular way: they investigate sources that contain information about the topic they’re studying so they can come up with the best possible answers.
Problem solving like a historian means using relevant and reliable information to come up with the best solution you can. Let’s look at some of the sources historians use when they investigate the past.
A historical source is a document or other item that provides information about the past. Historians use sources to answer questions about the past and, in some cases, to apply what they’ve learned to the future. Sources help paint a picture of an event and provide insights into how people thought and acted at the time.
Just about everything historians use to study history can be divided into primary and secondary sources.
Examples of secondary sources include:
Examples of primary sources include:
Let’s look at a few examples of how primary and secondary sources could be used to investigate real questions.
EXAMPLEImagine students wanted to learn more about the history of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They would want to look at primary sources—the New York Times from September 12, 2001, for example, or interviews with people who lived through the attacks. They would also want to read secondary sources to understand how scholars have interpreted the events, such as by reading books written years later (for example, September 11 in History, edited by historian Mary L. Dudziak).
Primary and secondary sources each provide valuable insights into events in history. Taken together, they help us learn lessons from the past.
Of course, you don’t have to be a historian to use sources for problem solving.
EXAMPLEWhen you think about going out to dinner, you might look at customer reviews on a website like Yelp, or ask for friends’ opinions. Each individual review is a source telling you one person’s experience; by considering a larger number of reviews, you’re more likely to get an accurate picture of a restaurant.
In this course, you’ll learn how to use historical sources carefully and thoughtfully. You’ll then be able to take those techniques and apply them to researching problems at work or at home. In the next lesson, we’ll look at strategies for identifying and evaluating sources that are both relevant and reliable.
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.