What Does It Mean to Make Inferences? , pp. 5 of 9

The second case is Lee Poh Ping’s work on the Chinese population in Singapore during the 19th century. Lee (1978) cited the male-to-female gender ratio as proof that the Chinese population in Singapore was a highly unsettled one, and as such, the lawlessness and chaos of the mid-19th century was not unexpected. Again, this piece of inference requires an understanding of what it means to have an imbalanced gender ratio in any society, and conversely, why do settled societies have a balanced gender ratio. Through that understanding, Lee was able to conclude to a high probability that the Chinese society in mid-19th century Singapore was one that was akin to a frontier town, and suffered from high crime rates and unrest.

In both cases, each respective historian was only able to, through inductive reasoning, arrive at conclusions that in their opinion were most likely what happened in the period of their investigation. That is the nature of inductive reasoning, and therefore any LORMS in the classroom will have to map out the process in which a historian or student arrives at what they think most likely happened. While there are no rigid procedural rules to the historical method, there are key guiding processes. What is demonstrated here is the basic process that goes towards making inferences. It is a process that always starts with the use of contextual knowledge to account for something new and that answers the inquiry question.

Therefore, the experience of other historians can be boiled down into the simple flow below, in which can be used to draw up a set of LORMS that rewards students according to the way they bring in contextual knowledge to complement the information that is presented in the source.

Steps taken to draw cogent inferences:

  1. Understanding the inquiry question.
  2. Reading the source(s).
  3. Summoning relevant contextual knowledge based on the inquiry question and source(s).
  4. Asking how the new source(s) made sense in relation to the pre-existing contextual knowledge.

Contextual knowledge is important because it helps students and historians decide whether the inference that is being drawn is a reasonable and probable one or not, and therefore those who are able to better integrate the new information from the source into the contextual understanding of the period in question are the ones who are better able to make proper historical inferences. This could be seen from the work of the two historians that were being examined. They informed their inferences with their contextual knowledge that is “hybridized” with the source in order to answer the inquiry question. 

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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