When you read a history textbook, you usually get a story that's been put together by someone who is familiar with the research that scholars have done.
For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RH9-10.1, RH9-10.6, RH9-10.8 (see details below).

—The Editors
Do you have comments? I'd be pleased to hear from you at 
[email protected].
—Julie Weiss


Why Reinvent the Wheel?: The Historians' Disagreement and Critical Thinking

When you read a history textbook, you usually get a story that's been put together by someone who is familiar with the research that scholars have done. What you don't see when you read the tidy story is that scholars often disagree with one another. When that happens, each of them tries to show that his or her way telling the story is true—and that other scholars' efforts are not. How is a reader supposed to know whom to believe?

In "Why Reinvent the Wheel?" writer Graham Chandler reports on an email discussion among several scholars who study the origins of the wheel. As you'll see, they disagree in both large and small ways. These activities will give you a tool to evaluate the scholars assertions so that you can form your own story of the invention of the wheel. In this lesson, you will:

•Compare the explanations of the invention and spreading use of the wheel by different scholars.
•Identify evidence that different scholars use to support theories about the origins of the wheel.
•Evaluate the perspectives of different scholars by evaluating their evidence.
•Distinguish between evidence and conclusions.

Many Ways to Tell A Story 

In many families, there's a story that gets told and retold, but often family members don't all agree about exactly what happened. As soon as one person starts telling the story, others cut in with, "That's not how it happened!" or "Here you go again. You know you've got it wrong!" This is usually followed by someone else trying to tell the story, but also getting interrupted and corrected. Hopefully, it's all done in good humor, and families, or long-time friends, often grow to love these competing stories and disagreements.

Think about a story that your family or that you and your friends share, and about which disagreement swirls. Tell it to a partner, or if you feel more comfortable, write it down. Have volunteers share their examples with the class, and as a group see what the examples have in common. Is there, for example, a common type of misunderstanding that's responsible for several disagreements? Maybe your aunt is hard of hearing, or your cousin lived in a far-off city and got the story third hand, or maybe there's a family member who tends to exaggerate. Is there ever any resolution to the disagreement? Is there a source people look to as the expert—maybe a parent who clarifies a story that siblings tell differently? Has there ever been new information added—maybe someone who knew your grandparents and can remember the incident first hand? These are just examples of possible patterns. Keep your eyes open and see what you notice among your classmates' stories.

What you may not know is that the same thing happens among historians—especially historians who study the distant past. Some things are agreed on, but the farther back in time we go, there is more uncertainty. So they do their best to gather evidence and figure out what it means, and then, like your family, they agree on this and disagree on that. In "Why Reinvent the Wheel?" several scholars discuss their theories of how, when and where the wheel was invented. Their discussion provides an excellent opportunity to learn about how versions of the past can conflict, and to evaluate which are most convincing and what makes them so.

Inventing the Wheel: Analyzing Different Versions of the Story

Read "Why Reinvent the Wheel?", underlining the parts you find most important. Print the graphic organizers so that each person or group has one. Then, working on your own or with a group, complete them to help you clarify which historians said what, what evidence they provided for their arguments and what conclusions they drew based on that evidence.

When you and your group have finished, come together with with the rest of the class. For each of the charts, answer these questions:

  • Which historian presented the most convincing evidence?
  • Does the conclusion make sense based on the evidence?
  • Which conclusion do you find most persuasive? Why?
Notes to teachers:  
  • It may help students to work in groups to complete the graphic organizers.
  • Some spaces on the charts may not have answers, depending on what is included in the article.
  • We have included completed charts for your reference.
  • Finally, when the graphic organizers have been completed, students might need guidance to draw conclusions about which points of views are most believable and why.


Common Core Standards met in this lesson: 

RH9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

RH9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or simpler topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

RH9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.