History homework help: how to see cause-and-effect relations

To understand the course of historical events here are a few guiding tips:

  • What cause-and-effect is
  • Ask why
  • Backtrack

What cause-and-effect is

To understand why cause-and-effect go hand-in-hand an understanding of the words is advisable. A dictionary definition would say that they are the result of a relationship between an action and event that are coincided. A cause is the thing that happens prior to the action, the responsible factor for an event taking place. The effect is the result of the cause, for example: a divorce due to too many heated arguments between a married couple. The cause is the direct link to the effect, you cannot have effect without cause but the effect to a cause can be aborted. Say, for instance, that the couple going to get a divorce change their minds and decide to stay together, the divorce (the effect) has been stopped even though the heated arguments (the cause) took place. While Aristotle has four causes, his efficient cause is the most relevant to the cause-and-effect relation. The efficient cause is that first step which leads to movement, the cause that leads to the action.

Ask why

When looking at a historical event one should ask why it happened. Asking the question ‘why’ is a good starting point in finding the cause related to the effect. Do not just read about a point in your nation’s history without asking why it happened. Building an understanding about the relationship of cause-and-effect in history can keep historical problems from being repeated. Do not just accept that two world wars happened, ask why did they happen and if they could have been avoided.


Often the focus is kept on the historical event and nothing else. In History class you learn the dates of the events and the key highlighted actions but rarely is the cause to the effect examined. The cause could have taken a few years before the effect happened but it is still responsible for the event taking place. For example: the American Revolution. Before the actual battle began the workings leading to the separation of the American colonies from England were a couple years in the making. This can be said true for almost every other major historical event. Wars, after all, do not just happen, there is a cause that leads to the effect, igniting a string of fuse to a keg of powder that will explode unless stopped in time.