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33 - Expertise in History



Overviews of Expertise and of History


Expertise, studied in a variety of domains, has referred to highly skilled performance in an activity such as violin playing or playing chess. Expertise has referred also to a person's knowledge and/or ability to perform representational tasks of a particular domain. The term also may be based on a reputation established by publications and/or lectures, or on a “certification” such as a PhD. In the present context, an expert in history is assumed to have a general and a specialized knowledge of history as well as facility in the skills of historical research and writing.

Although the study of expertise began in the late nineteenth century, the primary impetus occurred in the late twentieth century with the work on chess by de Groot (1965) and Chase and Simon (1973a, 1973b). This research, comparing expert, middle-range, and novice performance, demonstrated the importance of recognizing functionally related “chunks” of chess pieces. Similarly, physics experts were superior to novices in their conceptual understanding of physics problems, which in turn led to their better problem solving (Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Larkin, McDermott, Simon, & Simon, 1980).

The nature of expertise in any domain involves an interaction of a person's knowledge (both domain-specific and general) and skills, and the characteristics of the domain that constrain performance. Some domains, because of their conceptual evolution, permit the use of mathematics, formal logic, or well-controlled experimentation.

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