Questioning History

16 Essential Questions That Will Deepen Your Understanding of the Past

by Joe Regenbogen

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"Questioning History is an eye opening book that provides an intelligent, thought provoking, yet simple way of examining history. This book will get you thinking about how the past has shaped our world. For so many of us, studying history in school was stale, dull and dreary. In his refreshing take on the past, Joe Regenbogen has blown away the dust by first developing a list of key open-ended questions that beg to be explored. He then goes on to provide just the right amount of background history to ground each question on a secure foundation along with insightful analysis as to how each query can reasonably be answered.

"Having taught courses for many years in the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western University, I have come to appreciate that the best education is rendered through open and honest discussion. I have employed this approach throughout my career in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of social theory as well as to breed greater empathy for others. Anyone looking to do the same with the subject of the past should read Questioning History. In addition to using it to lay the groundwork for classroom discussion, it should be read by all adults who want to expand their understanding of history. I only wish this book had been assigned years ago in one of my high school or college history classes. If it had, maybe the history books on my shelves would not be so dusty today."

Debby Jacobson,
School of Social Work Professor

"For history teachers who thirst for ideas, materials, books, etc., that continue the long tradition of embracing democratic education, engage students in intellectual interaction, use issues-orientated lessons, implement authentic inquiry discussions, in order to avoid the mind-numbing and anti-intellectual historical method of rote learning and memorization, this book offers an exemplary and exciting option. Mr. Regenbogen's meticulously researched and brilliant book, based on years of classroom practice and an unwavering commitment to student participatory democracy, is perhaps the most exciting and original gift to arrive for history teachers in many years. As the politics of our current time continue to force history teachers to be text-book addicted, trapping both themselves and, in turn, their students into experiencing mindless learning exercises, Mr. Regenbogen's book offers fresh ideas and actual examples of the process of learning that injects relevance and excitement into the history classroom. History teachers can use Mr. Regenbogen's excellent and carefully crafted lessons and then build their own lessons that represent the ongoing issues that confront our nation's citizens, including the young citizens in the history."

Devon Metzger,
Social Studies Education Professor

"In Questioning History, a veteran educator provides a unique perspective on teaching and understanding history. Joe Regenbogen examines human societies from the ancient world to modern times, making connections by means of essential questions. When should a nation go to war? What is the fairest way to share wealth? What is the best way to achieve equality? Regenbogen explains the value of posing such questions to stimulate critical thinking and passionate discussion among students—an alternative to teaching history merely as a set of dry facts. The book grounds abstract issues in well-chosen examples from world history, placing readers in the middle of Socrates’ trial, the Civil War’s draft riots, and Nelson Mandela’s release from a South African prison. These crucial events become a jumping-off point for interpretation.

"Even as he roams across the ages, however, Regenbogen keeps one foot planted in the classroom. He tells compelling stories from his long career as a high school history teacher, including revelatory moments from mock trials and field trips. Regenbogen shows educators how to help students understand the past, put the present in perspective, and prepare for future decisions as informed citizens. For general readers, he makes history come alive with engaging narratives and thoughtful analyses. After Questioning History, required history courses need never be boring again."

Dean Robbins,
Former editor, Isthmus

"Questioning History - 16 Essential Questions That Will Deepen Your Understanding of the Past" does exactly what the title suggests , deepen your understanding. There is no doubt that Joe Regenbogen has written a book that secondary teachers and students will dive into immediately. Each essential question causes the student to question their own thinking and this makes them, in turn, question who they are as a person. It is obvious, Mr. Regenbogen has done a splendid job preparing his students with the critical thinking skills they will need in the real world and he has decided to share his classroom teaching experiences with others, for which I am thankful. I believe Mr. Regenbogen's book is a great resource that will enrich any discussion and should be used in Social Studies classes from the Middle School, Secondary, and Post-Secondary levels."

Jim Hubbard,
Secondary Social Studies teacher

Since the days of the Ancient Greeks, history has been perceived as the academic study of the past. Unfortunately, it has generally been taught as a litany of rigid, boring facts intended to be accepted rather than questioned. This has been reinforced for decades by weighty textbooks that overwhelm the reader with mind-numbing details presented in a chronological sequence. The end result is that students see little relevance of what they learn in history class to the real world, and many simply struggle to stay awake. Compared to other subjects taught at the secondary level, history is frequently judged to be the most boring. This is largely because it is viewed as an intellectually lifeless subject that presents few opportunities for active engagement.
Questioning History is a book built around 16 essential questions designed to challenge this common assumption. Each question is broad, open-ended and subject to vigorous debate. By examining the historical background behind each question and by analyzing the ways in which the question can be answered, the reader will come away with a deeper understanding of the past and a new appreciation for history as a cognitively dynamic subject. In addition, by using each chapter as a platform for engaging discussions and Socratic seminars, the reader will be able to refine the decision-making skills necessary for effective citizenship in a democratic society. Depending on the classroom or the setting in which it is being used, Questioning History can either take the place of the more traditional textbook or at least be used as a supplement to make it come more alive. The best way to learn and to appreciate a subject is through active engagement. Questioning History provides a shot of adrenalin to the study of history.

Chapter 1 Introduction
What are history’s essential questions?

Chapter 2 An existential seesaw
What is the ideal balance between faith and reason?

Chapter 3 Piety and the past
What has been the impact of religion on history?

Chapter 4 History’s moral calculus
How should civilizations be morally evaluated?

Chapter 5 Stereotypes: The good, the bad and the ugly
Why do people ascribe defining characteristics to certain nationalities?

Chapter 6 The best way to slice the pie
What is the fairest way for a society to share its wealth?

Chapter 7 A balancing act
How much power should be given to the people?

Chapter 8 Sharing the sandbox
What is the best way for nations to carry on foreign policy?

Chapter 9 This land is mine
How should control of land best be determined?

Chapter 10 I pledge allegiance
How should nationalism be assessed in history?

Chapter 11 Let the ruling classes tremble
When, if ever, is a rebellion justified?

Chapter 12 War, what is it good for?
When, if ever, should a nation go to war?

Chapter 13 Taking off the gloves
What limits, if any, should be followed in times of war?

Chapter 14 The flow of humanity
What is the best way to control human migration?

Chapter 15 All men are created equal
What is the best way to achieve equality?

Chapter 16 In the eye of the beholder
What is the best way to evaluate artistic expression?

Chapter 17 The struggle for power
Why are there competitive factions in a democratic society?

Chapter 18 Epilogue
What is the best way to use essential questions?


Joe Regenbogen holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of New Orleans. He began his teaching career in 1979 in an inner city high school in New Orleans, Louisiana but spent most of the following three decades working in the Parkway Schools district of St. Louis. In his long teaching career, he taught a full spectrum of courses, ranging from American and World History to electives like Crime and Law and the American West. Classes were taught at the regular, honors and AP levels. He served as department chair, sponsored and coached such activities as the chess team, student council and the mock trial team. He has also served as adjunct instructor at the University of New Orleans and Maryville University where he taught social studies methods and education respectively. Following his retirement in 2012, he now teaches American history at his district’s Mosaic Academy, a special program designed to meet the needs of exceptionally gifted students.

Reflective Inquiry, Inquiry, Socratic Seminars, Essential Questions, Authentic Instruction, Authentic Learning, Coalition of Essential Schools, Critical Thinking, Active Engagement

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Questioning History

Book Subtitle

16 Essential Questions That Will Deepen Your Understanding of the Past





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm

Publication date

June 2016