You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
Web Resources on History
Quotes on History
“It is one thing to write like a poet, and another thing to write like a historian. The poet can tell or sing of things not as they were but as they ought to have been, whereas the historian must describe them, not as they ought to have been, but as they were, without exaggerating or hiding the truth in any way.” –Miguel de Cervantes, from his novel Don Quixote
“A man without history is like a tree without roots.” –Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association
“History, after all, is the memory of a nation.” — John F. Kennedy
“The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.” – Peter Berger
History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools. Ambrose Bierce
“What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon..” -Napoleon Bonaparte
“Using history as a mirror I try by whatever means I can to improve my own life and to model it by the standard of all that is best in those whose lives I write. As a result I feel as though I were conversing and indeed living with them; by means of history I receive each one of them in turn, welcome and entertain them as guests and consider their stature and their qualities and select from their actions the most authoritative and the best with a view to getting to know them. What greater pleasure could one enjoy than this or what more efficacious in improving one’s own character?”
—Plutarch, life of Timoleon
Handouts and Activities
What is history?
The best article I have found to help raise discussions and to begin conversing about what history is is from an article I found a few years ago on the origins of World War I. Nations from the former Yugoslavia teach and interpret the event very differently. I adapted the article and include a some of the work I have had my students do here.
Here is the article along with KQs students asked as they read and we discussed
The daily worksheet introducing the article along with notes from class
Here is a poster from the Stanford History Group asking “What is history?”
Below is a series of videos from an IB Teacher on the nature of History as an AOK.
Constructing Historical Accounts
I have never done this activity but these are really well written ones from the Stanford History Group imagining a cafeteria lunchroom fight.
History and the Past: Why does history change when the past does not?
There are many ways to explore this topic and it helps kids explore what history essentially is, what it isn’t, and how it is used (and abused).
Here is an 8 minute radio interview with an author who explores how the history of the Mexican-American War has changed over time. What becomes obvious is that the event itself hasn’t changed but the history we believe to be true (or the “dominant” history) changes. The changes are almost always tied to our present circumstances.
Here is the mp3 you can listen to or download
Here is the transcript of the interview for students to follow along with.
Here are six primary source documents, put together by a coworker) you can have students further explore this topic (this may be more relevant for an American History course than TOK).
How is history created?
Based on previous work, we map out on the board some of the concepts about how history is produced and why history changes. Here is an image of my fancy board work. It is far from exact but it gets the point across.
History Writing Assignment
In order to help students develop their TOK writing skills, I put together a simple writing prompt for students to respond to that asks them to use work we have done in class. They address: Why does history change if the past doesn’t?
Historical Accuracy and Artwork
There are many stories about whether art needs to be historically accurate. These stories pop up every so often when a notable movie comes out that is about a historical event (Selma, Stonewall, etc.). I put together this lesson about a state based on a famous photograph taken during the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The image, the statue, and the real life person photographed raise a lot of interesting questions. I came upon this story through Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast. You can stream the full version or I edited the original down to be a bit shorter and focus on the relevant parts for class.
For original links check out my original blogpost on the topic.
Here are other posts about history and art.
Historical Monuments and History
This is a particularly effective topic since many countries around the world have had some controversy over the presence or display of a particular historical figure. You can choose Here are a few other cases you can look over.
I have them start by reading and discussing an article about a particular case in the US.
Richmond Confederate Monuments w KQs (annotated with KQs after students read)
I then have my students watch a really well produced clip from John Oliver discussing the controversy.
Textbooks, Nations, and the Abuse of History
Sadly, there is no end to stories of US states or nations around the world using their power to push self serving narratives about the past. These stories provide great fodder for student discussion about the relevance and importance of history and why it is always being fought over.
Here are just some of the handouts I’ve made. I only ever use one but each seems to suffice.
Oral History, IKS, and History
An interesting way to discuss indigenous knowledge systems is to contrast the approaches of western histories and their reliance on written sources and the role of oral histories in indigenous cultures.
Theories of History
I don’t do much with this topic though I found this source a good summary of various approaches students can do further research if it is appropriate to their presentations or essays.
History and Perspective
History as an AOK lends itself well to the exploration and relevance of the concept of perspective. Here are some resources to help consider them.
Books on History
The Land Scape of History by John Lewis Gaddis
What is history and why should we study it? Is there such a thing as historical truth? Is history a science? One of the most accomplished historians at work today, John Lewis Gaddis, answers these and other questions in this short, witty, and humane book. The Landscape of History provides a searching look at the historian’s craft, as well as a strong argument for why a historical consciousness should matter to us today.
Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan
Acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan explores here the many ways in which history affects us all. She shows how a deeper engagement with history, both as individuals and in the sphere of public debate, can help us understand ourselves and the world better. But she also warns that history can be misused and lead to misunderstanding. History is used to justify religious movements and political campaigns alike. Dictators may suppress history because it undermines their ideas, agendas, or claims to absolute authority. Nationalists may tell false, one-sided, or misleading stories about the past. Political leaders might mobilize their people by telling lies. It is imperative that we have an understanding of the past and avoid these and other common traps in thinking to which many fall prey. This brilliantly reasoned work, alive with incident and figures both great and infamous, will compel us to examine history anew—and skillfully illuminates why it is important to treat the past with care.
Given that history is constantly being rewritten, and that a historian cannot, in the words of the historian EH Carr, ‘divorce himself from the outlook and interests of his age’, can we talk about what really happened in history? Can we access the truth about what happened in the past?