Explain to students that the concept of historical causation addresses “who” and “what” influences history. By “who” historians typically mean individuals, groups and social movements. The “what” refers to ideologies, institutions and other systemic factors. Some events are caused by intentional acts carried out by individuals and groups, while other causes are the result of accident, omission or unintended societal influences.
As an opening activity, invite students to identify the immediate and underlying causes of a car accident described in the scenario, #1 Looking for Causes. Distribute a copy to each student or project the scenario on a screen for the entire class to see. Explain the difference between an immediate cause (e.g., the victim had run out of cigarettes) and a broader underlying cause (e.g., lax law enforcement of drunk drivers). Invite students to identify both types of causes for the accident.
Invite several students to discuss their conclusions. If useful, provide students with a copy of the sample answers found on the background sheet, #2 Immediate and Underlying Causes of the Accident.