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Investigating adolescents’ historical reasoning skills when analyzing and interpreting an image


Kevin van Loon, Dominic Studer, & Monika Waldis


This study investigated adolescents’ (secondary school students, N = 145, M age 13.9 years) historical reasoning skills when analyzing and interpreting an image. Presumably, historical reasoning can be fostered when engaging in inquiry-based writing. However, in past research using inquiry-based writing tasks, textual sources rather than images prevailed. The present research investigated students’ writing skills when interpreting a historical image. Participants were presented with a historical photograph and were asked to write a structured text about their analysis and interpretation of this image. A scoring rubric was developed to assess the quality of students’ historical reasoning skills, specifically: (1) asking and answering historical questions, (2) reasoning about images, and (3) reasoning with images. Findings show that the factor structure of the scoring rubric largely overlaps with theoretically distinguished components of historical reasoning. Students were able to ask historical questions and write a well-structured text. However, most students did not describe and analyze the source of the image and did not refer to the main message of the image. Further, many students could not identify the image’s relevance for the present. Importantly, the findings imply that students’ methodological competencies to critically analyze and interpret the used image were not elaborated. Possibly, they do not receive sufficient training addressing these skills. This seems problematic, not only in history education but also when deriving meaning from images in everyday life.


Historical reasoning, Image analysis and interpretation, Historical writing

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How to Cite

Van Loon, K., Studer, D., & Waldis, M. (2024). Investigating adolescents’ historical reasoning skills when analyzing and interpreting an image. Historical Encounters, 11(1), 95-112.


  • Issue Published 10 January 2024

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0​ License

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