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             A Predicament
Imagine waking up one morning to discover that
  you have lost your memory. After a few
  minutes of blind panic, you begin to examine the
  room you find yourself in. You discover a
  scribbled note which says “Meet George, mall,
  10.” You glance at the clock, it‟s 9:00am. Since
  you don‟t want to tell anyone about your
  predicament, you give yourself the hour to work
  out who you are from the contents of what is
  clearly your room and make it to the mall to
  meet George – whoever he is…
            A few thoughts…
   If you found yourself in the previous
    situation, to what extent would you be
    able to reconstruct your identity by
    examining the objects in your room?
    What problems would you face trying to
    do this, and how similar are they to those
    facing a historian?
   How would amnesiac shellfish poisoning
    affect the victim?
             A few thoughts…
   Why should you care about your past?
   What dangers are there in being obsessed
    with your past, and what dangers are
    there in ignoring it?
   How good is your memory, and how
    reliable do you think it is as a guide to the
   If you keep a diary, what determines what
    you choose to include and what you
    choose to omit?
            A few thoughts…
   Would you be more inclined to trust an
    autobiography, or a biography about the
    same person written by a historian?
   To what extent do you think that people
    learn from their mistakes, and to what
    extent do you think they keep making the
    same mistakes?
             What is History?

   Evidence
   Significance
   Explaining & Understanding
                What is History?
   A study of the present traces of the past
   Problems:
       Too little evidence
       Too much evidence
                  What is History?
   A study of the present traces of the past
   Problems:
       Too little evidence
          Distant past: easy to misinterpret evidence & jump
           to conclusions
          Ex: “our knowledge of the wars between Persia
           and Greece in the fifth century BCE is based on a
           single, quite unreliable, source- the Greek historian
           Herodotus (c.485-420 BCE).”
                 What is History?
   A study of the present traces of the past
   Problems:
       Too much evidence
         Modern history
         Ex: history of the year 2000
                What is History?
   A record of the significant events of the
   Problem: how do we decide whether or
    not an event is significant?
   Criteria:
       How many people affected by an event?
       To what extent were people affected?
                  What is History?
   Using any criteria of your choice, rate the
    historical significance of the following events.
       Publication of Charles Darwin‟s The Origin of the
        Species in 1859
       Your last TOK class
       The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948
       The 1930 soccer World Cup Final – won by Uruguay
       Birth of Bill Gates
       Former US president Bill Clinton‟s affair with Monica
       Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center &
        Pentagon in 2001
             What is History?
            Explaining the Past
   History is concerned with explaining and
    understanding the past
   Establishing what happened is usually a
    prelude to trying to understand why it
         Why Study History?
 “The study of history is so important that it
      should be a compulsory IB subject.”
 Think of as many arguments as you can
  for and against this claim.
          Why Study History?

   …gives us a sense of identity.
   …is a defense against propaganda.
   …enriches our understanding of human
          Why Study History?
       History gives us a sense of identity.
   As a community, if you don‟t know where
    you have come from it will be impossible
    for you to make any sense of the present
    or what you should do in the future.
   You can know a country only if you know
    something about its history.
   How does this apply to the Middle East?
             Why Study History?
   How important do you think it is for our
    political leaders to have a good knowledge
    of history?
   Do you think that some countries are
    more obsessed with their history than
    others? What danger, if any, are there in:
       Ignoring the past?
       Being obsessed with the past?
             Why Study History?
    History is a defense against propaganda.
   National pride may dictate a one-sided
    interpretation of the past which highlights
    a country‟s achievements and overlooks its
   History may be exploited
       Legitimize rule
       Justify territorial expansion
       Whitewash past crimes
       Stalin example
             Why Study History?
    History is a defense against propaganda.
   Can also be used to puncture some myths
   Chief Seattle quote (1854 response to US
    government attempt to buy his land)
       No one knows what he said on that day
       Speech written by Ted Perry for an ABC
        television drama in 1971
        Why Study History?
What do you understand by George Orwell‟s
 observation, „Who controls the past
 controls the future, who controls the
 present controls the past‟?
To what extent do you think this is true?
             Why Study History?
      History enriches our understanding of
                   human nature.
   Shows us what human beings have
    thought and done in a wide variety of
       Should it make us feel optimistic or
        pessimistic about human nature?
                Why Study History?
     History enriches our understanding of human
   “History shows…” should be treated with caution
       Self-realizing expectations
   Historical record can sometimes be a source of
    hope rather than despair.
       Changes could not come about if people had seen
        themselves as the victims of history.
            Abolition of slavery
            Emancipation of women
            Birth of United Nations
           Why Study History?
“One cannot avoid a certain feeling of disgust, when one
  observes the actions of man displayed on the great
  stage of the world. Wisdom is manifested by individuals
  here and there; but the web of human history as a
  whole appears to be woven from folly and childish
  vanity, often, too, from puerile wickedness and love of
  destruction: with the result at the end one is puzzled to
  know what idea to form of our species which prides itself
  so much on its advantages.”
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

- From your own study of history, to what extent do you
  think that Kant‟s pessimistic assessment of human
  beings is justified?
- Are there any grounds for taking a more optimistic view?
    How Can the Past be Known?
   Problem with knowing the past: it no
    longer exists.
       Memory is fallible.
       Evidence is ambiguous.
       Prejudice is common.

   Ideal: Objectivity
    How Can the Past be Known?
   G.R. Elton
       “In a very real sense the study of history is concerned
        with a subject matter more objective and
        independent than that of the natural sciences. Just
        because historical matter is in the past, is gone… its
        objective reality is guaranteed; it is beyond being
        altered for any purpose whatsoever.”
   Samuel Butler
       “Though God cannot alter the past, historians can.”
   Which of these views is closer to the truth?
     How Can the Past be Known?
          Primary Sources
   Written by someone who was there at the
   „Bedrock of History‟
   How can they be contaminated?
   How can the four ways of knowing distort
    the production of a primary source such as
    a diary?
     How Can the Past be Known?
          Primary Sources
              Fallible Eye-Witness
   Perceptions shaped by interests,
    expectations, & cultural backgrounds.
   Emotion and prejudice affect accounts of
    an event.
   Other biases?
        How Can the Past be Known?
             Primary Sources
                    Social Bias
   Primary sources may reflect the interests
    of one particular social group.
       Why is medieval Europe often thought of as a
        very religious place?
   People with the power control the pens.
   The illiterate usually pass through history
    without a trace.
     How Can the Past be Known?
          Primary Sources

   If you were to make a time capsule to be
    opened in five thousand years time, what
    things would you put in to give future
    historians as objective a picture as
    possible of life in the early twenty-first
      How Can the Past be Known?
           Primary Sources

Deliberate Manipulation
- A disturbing problem arises when primary
  sources are deliberately manipulated by
  governments and other interest groups to
  change the “facts” of history.
  -   Ex: Trotsky out of photo
   How Can the Past be Known?
        Primary Sources

  History is written by the victors.

- How different would it be if written by the
   How Can the Past be Known?
        Primary Sources
 Who wrote it?

 What was their motive in writing it?

 How long after the event was it written?

 Comparison to other primary sources

 Documents of a legal or administrative
  nature may be less biased than such things
  as letters and diaries.
              Writing History

   The starting point of historical
    investigation is often a question or
    problem which reflects contemporary
              Writing History
        History is a Selection of a Selection
   Primary sources are a selective
   The historian chooses his sources.
   Our knowledge of the past is filtered first
    through the eyes of those who witnessed
    it, then through the eyes of the historian
    who wrote about it.
              Writing History
           The Advantages of Hindsight
   The historian knows how things turned
   Certain ways of describing events may not
    be available at the time, but only
   Division of history into periods is
            Writing History
G.M. Trevelyan (1876-1962):
“Unlike dates, periods are not facts. They
  are retrospective conceptions that we
  form about past events, useful to focus
  discussion, but very often leading
  historical thought astray.”
- How can dividing history into periods be
  useful and misleading?
              Writing History
           The Advantages of Hindsight
   The writing of history is influenced by the
    era in which it is written.
   Events are judged by their consequences.
   Each generation interprets the past in the
    light of its own experience.
           Writing History
Do you think you should study current
 events in history (last 5 years) on the
 grounds that they are relevant to your
 experience, or do you think they should be
 excluded on the grounds that they are too
 close for you to see them objectively?
                Writing History
        The Disadvantages of Hindsight
   Hindsight Bias
       The results inevitable.
       Anyone could have seen what would happen.
       If you were there, you would not have made
        the same mistake.
             The Problem of Bias
   Topic Choice Bias
       Influenced by current preoccupations
   Confirmation Bias
       Only appeal to supporting evidence (ignoring
   National Bias
       Difficulty of dealing objectively with sensitive
       We begin with our prejudices and search for
        evidence to support them.
        The Problem of Bias
Do you think that it will ever be possible to
 write a history of the world that can be
 agreed upon by all countries?
        The Problem of Bias
Pluralistic Approach
“Cubist History”
 Explores the past from a variety of
 Does not necessarily revert to relativism.

 Does not preclude historical truth.
          Theories of History
H.A.L. Fisher (1856-1940):
 “The human universe is so enormously
  complicated that to speak of the cause of any
  event is an absurdity.”

Possible causal factors:
 Geographical conditions

 Individual motives

 Social & Economic conditions

 Chance occurrences
         Theories of History
To what extent do you think that your
 country‟s history has been influenced by
 its geography?
                Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History
       Course of history is determined by great
       A.J.P. Taylor (1906-90)
            “The history of modern Europe can be written in
             terms of three titans: Napoleon, Bismarck, &
              Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   Journal Entry:
       If you could travel back in time and interview
        one character from history, who would it be
        and why?
              Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   Nicholas Humphrey (psychologist):
       If Newton had not existed someone else would have
        discovered the law of gravity, whereas if Shakespeare
        had not existed no one would have come up with

   Do you think that great historical figures are
    more like Newton or Shakespeare?
               Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943):
       “When a historian asks „Why did Brutus stab Caesar?‟
        he means „What did Brutus think which made him
        decide to stab Caesar?‟ The cause of the event, for
        him, means the thought in the mind of the person
        whose agency the event came about: and this is not
        something other than the event, it is inside the event
        itself… All history is the history of thought.”
                Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   Empathy
       Useful
            some have even tried psychoanalysis
       Often difficult
            Difficult to empathize with Genghis Khan
       Limits to agent‟s perception of the situation
       Does no take advantage of hindsight
           Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   To what extent do you think one can and
    should try to empathize with Hitler in
    order to understand his actions?
           Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   Give examples from history of actions
    which had consequences that could not
    have been imagined by the agent.
              Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   When he was a young man, Hitler once sought a job as
    a stage designer. Armed with a letter of introduction, he
    went to the Vienna Court Opera to see the set director,
    Alfred Roller, three times, but each time he lacked the
    courage to knock upon the door. According to the
    historian Frederick Spotts, “If Hitler had been taken up
    by Roller, he would have been very happily engaged as
    a stage designer. It would have been heaven for him.‟
    How different do you think 20th century history would
    have been if Hitler had summoned up the courage to
    knock on Roller‟s door?
       Langemaat
               Theories of History
   Great Person Theory of History

   Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) in War and Peace
       Although in that year, 1812, Napoleon believed more
        than ever that to shed or not to shed the blood of his
        peoples depended entirely on his will (as Alexander
        said in his last letter to him), yet then, and more than
        at any time, he was in bondage to those laws which
        forced him, while to himself he seemed to be acting
        freely, to do what was bound to be his share in the
        common edifice of humanity, in history.
             Theories of History
   Economic Determinism
       History is determined by economic factors.
       Printing Press, Steam Engine, & Computer
           Theories of History
   Economic Determinism

   Which invention do you think has had the
    most decisive impact on history in the last
    two thousand years?
             Theories of History
   Economic Determinism

   Karl Marx (1818-83)
       Deterministic
       Claimed to have discovered laws of historical
        change (compared himself to Newton)
       Technological & economic factors are engines
        of change (not great individuals)
           Theories of History
   Economic Determinism

   We can predict the behavior of a gas with
    a great deal of accuracy even thought he
    behavior of an individual molecule is
    unpredictable. Do you think that, in a
    similar way, we can make accurate
    predictions about society even though
    individual behavior is unpredictable?
              Theories of History
   Economic Determinism

   Karl Popper (1902-94)
       Predictability of future is incoherent
       If you could perfectly predict the future then you
        would be able to predict such things as future
        scientific discoveries; but if you could predict the
        details of such discoveries, you would then have
        discovered them now and not in the future – and that
        contradicts the original supposition.
                 Theories of History
   Role of Chance
       French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-62) If
        Cleopatra‟s nose had been shorter…
            Mark Antony might have found her less attractive
            not have fallen in love with her
            not have fallen out with Octavian
            Rome remained a republic rather than empire
            Rome might not have fallen into decadence
            Able to resist the barbarian invasions of 4th & 5th centuries
            Rome might never have fallen
            Europe & North Africa might still be Roman
       A Few More Thoughts…
   Why do we normally think of history as
    the catalogue of „great events‟ and
    assume that the details of our own micro-
    histories have nothing to do with it?
       A Few More Thoughts…
   The past no longer exists, but History
    seeks to reconstruct it on the basis of
    evidence found in the present.
         A Few More Thoughts…
   Skepticism about the past is no more
    justified than any other skepticism, and it
    is possible to establish a generally agreed
    historical facts.
       There is less agreement about the meaning
        and significance of these facts.
       A Few More Thoughts…
   There are many different interpretations
    of the past, and trying to determine which
    one is best is a matter of judgment rather
    than proof.
   If history is not to collapse into fiction, we
    must take seriously the idea that there is
    some kind of truth about the past and that
    a good historian can at least help us to get
    closer to this truth.
       A Few More Thoughts…
   Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97) said that
    History does not “make us more clever the
    next time, but wiser for all time.”

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