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ToK: History

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Chris Kirby

on 6 February 2013

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Transcript of ToK: History

Stage Four: Interpreting History is the meaningful interpretation of these facts, the processing of them into a narrative with causes and effects.

The facts, the pieces of historical information, are important – historians must be confident in their integrity

It is reasonable to expect that historians have rigorously applied Plato’s tests for justified true belief to these core historical facts. HIstorical Facts: Problems with Selecting Historians select, but what they select invariably reflects both the perspective of the original creator of the fact as well as the perspective of the historian who is selecting

A good example of this is the ‘fact’ that common people, the ‘peasants’ in Medieval Europe, were devout Christians

Who would have reported this 'fact'? Each generation’s reconstruction History is not a portrait of the past, nor the historian’s thoughts about the past – it is the bringing together of these two things.

Reconstructing the past is dependent on selection and interpretation of factual evidence

Thus: History is each generation’s reconstruction of the past.

If history is a jigsaw puzzle, then not only do the missing pieces have to be created, the existing pieces have to be continually reshaped to fit together with the newly created pieces. Historians want to put their reconstruction into a wider context.

Historians record, assess, reconstruct and interpret in a way that other scholars do not.

Historians continually reinterpret the events of the past and reappraise them for each new generation. A ToK Perspective History What is history? Definition according to 19th century German historian Ranke: "How it really was." What does this tell you about the 19th century view of history? Modern historians regard this approach as not only idealistic but also impossible.

But what is history if it isn’t presenting the past “as it really was”? The difference between the facts of the past and historical facts

What is a fact of the past? A reliable piece of information, something we know to be, in the common-sense meaning of the word, “true”

Ex: The year the French revolution began?
Ex: The exact site of the city of Troy?
But these facts are only the start of history – the foundation on which history is built Where the facts come from... -Interviews with those directly connected with historical events
-Archives (collections of documents or records connected with events of the past)
-Public records offices or churches

Many other facts come from academic disciplines which underpin history:
Archaeology
Paleontology
Epigraphy – the study of ancient inscriptions
(The Rosetta Stone) History is a selection: All historical facts are selected

It is this selection that makes it impossible for history to be “how it really was.”

Historians make history by selecting facts and processing them and it is the processing that creates history.

History has been described as an enormous jigsaw with lots of pieces missing. Historians try to create the missing pieces.

But they can only create these missing pieces by selecting them from the information available to them. The perspective of the historian interpreting this fact: Historians approach Medieval documents created by monks and priests attempting to imaginatively understand the minds of the creators of the documents

Imaginative understanding is an important part of an historian’s skill, but it varies from historian to historian.

Can modern historians (with their own sets of prejudices and biases) reliably process this piece of information from the past – considering both their own biases and the biases of the document’s creators? Can modern historians guarantee their freedom from bias or prejudice or expectation? At the least, each time a fact is selected, a historian must consider the following:

It might tell the historian what the writer genuinely thought had happened or was happening.

It might tell the historian what the writer thought ought to have happened.

It might tell the historian what the writer wanted others to think they thought. History, Pseudo-history and Historical Fiction
How can one tell the difference? Your task, in groups, is to identify a historical moment and provide examples (at least of one each) of history, pseudo-history and historical fiction related to that moment.

Example: Holocaust
-first hand accounts from survivors
-David Irving http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Irving
-Schindler’s List

Prepare a 7-10 minute or so presentation in which you share your examples and compare and contrast them. How true is history? Is it an easy matter to tell real history from false? How can this be done? What is the value of historical fiction as history, if any? Is pseudo-history ethical? The Historian's Method Stage one: Recording

Some scholars collect and record evidence from the past. These scholars are not historians but are instead archivists and archaeologists.

They determine origin of documents or artifacts and when and what circumstances documents were written.

The knowledge of archaeologists and curators is ‘scientific’ knowledge put to use by historians.

The knowledge these recorders collect is no different from the knowledge created in natural science – it is empirical and objective Stage 2: Assessment Historians assess the evidence they have, compare it to other similar evidence that might be available, and try to draw conclusions based on their findings.
At this stage, historians determine if the information they have is clearly historically relevant.
Only historians can do this – this assessment is a unique way of knowing in history. Stage 3: Reconstructing the Past Having assessed the evidence and accepted its importance, historians now have to use it, to infer from it and to reconstruct the past.
To do this, the historian must imaginatively understand the facts they have examined
This imaginative understanding, this reconstruction, is another unique way of knowing in history. The Uses of History History makes people patriotic

History is an intellectual pursuit

Societies need to know and understand their past

History helps us understand the present History explains why things happen.

History teaches us about human behavior

History of other countries makes us more tolerant

History provides a pleasurable leisure time activity
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