The Collapse of the Soviet Union: A Case Study in Causal Reasoning
James F. Voss, Mario Carretero, Joel Kennet, and Laurie Ney Siffies University of Pittsburgh
This chapter is concerned with how people perceive historical causation: What do people believe to be the causes of historical events? We chose to study the issue of historical causation primarily because it is one of the most fundamental topics of historical understanding, and therefore also one of the most important aspects of history instruction. Moreover, the study of historical causation also is related to other fundamental questions of understanding history, questions of historical explanation, historical narrative, the role of the historian, and the mental representations of historical events.
We addressed the question of historical causation by asking individuals to write an essay on what produced the collapse of the Soviet Union. Subsequently we asked them to rate the importance of a number of potential causes of the collapse and show how at least some of these causes produced it. In the first part of this chapter we discuss the nature of causal reasoning, especially as related to the topic of history, and in the second part we describe the study that was conducted. The third and final section contains a discussion of the findings with respect to history-related causal reasoning.
Historical causation is a complex topic, and we want to emphasize that our concern is with how individuals perceive causation with respect to an