Historiography: Theory of Knowledge (TOK) in History

World History teaching resources for the high school classroom: lesson plans, worksheets, quizzes and simulation games for KS3, IGCSE, IB and A-Level teachers.


The following materials have been designed to help deliver Theory of Knowledge (TOK) in History at IB (International Baccalaureate) Level to my students at the International School of Toulouse.

As well as making regular reference to TOK issues within normal lessons, I also deliver three sessions of one hour each to all of Grae 11 (whether or not they study history), and round the unit off by setting a relevant TOK essay title from the IB syllabus (these are provided annually in advance).

1. An Introduction to Theory of Knowledge in History

[online multimedia lecture]

In this 20-slide presentation, students are introduced to the concept that "Knowledge" in History consists not only of the selection of facts from an incomplete historical record, but the interpretation of those facts and of the gaps in that record by historians. There is also a detailed consideration of the role played by sense perception as a source of knowledge in History, complete with case studies focusing on the recent "statue wars" and other examples from public spaces.


2. The "What" of History: Sources

[student worksheet | teacher notes]

Introduction: Why and How is History Produced?

The Historians and Their Sources

This session makes use of the following two video clips which illustrate the problem of the 'language gap' when trying to interpret historical sources:

Video Clip 1: Great Train Robbery Video Clip 2: World War Two Pilots

3. The "Why?" of History: Causation

[Student worksheet | Teacher notes | Teacher Multimedia Presentation]

This session makes use of the following two video clips which demonstrate the ideas of accidentalism and determinism respectively.


4. The "Meaning" of History: Interpretations and Judgements

[Student worksheet | Teacher notes]

This session makes use of the following two video clips, both of which demonstrate the danger of taking even 'documentary' evidence at face value:

Video Clip 1: World War Two Video Clip 2: The World at War:
Demonisation of Hitler

Appendix 1: TOK in History - stimulus questions grid

The following grid outlines the main Ways of Knowing identified in the TOK history syllabus, along with the specified areas for consideration with regard to History in particular. These are laid out in a grid with a question provided which covers all possible crossover discussion points. Useful for classroom stimulus and ideas for how to incorporate TOK into classroom discussions, debates, starters and plenaries.

[click here for a printable version]

Appendix 2: A revision summary grid of historiographical terms

Observations: Leopold von Ranke's Historicism movement in the late 19th Century laid the framework for modern historiography. From the scientific methods of source analysis it promoted, historians quickly moved from describing "what" happened and towards a consideration of "why". In the late 20th Century, however, the postmodernists argued that Historicism was fundamentally flawed: all historical sources were both biased and incomplete so it was impossible to reach any valid conclusions. This created "The Crisis of History" which has called into question the whole validity of the discipline.

[click here for a printable version]


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