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How can we know the Past?

TOK Presentation

Francisco Gonçalves

on 3 September 2012

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Transcript of How can we know the Past?

a TOK Presentation: With what certainty
can we know
the Past? This KI directly relates to the Area of Knowledge (AOK) of History... History, as defined by Lagemaat, isn't simply "the study of the past," but the "study of present traces of the past" keyword = present
= traces We must also take into consideration that... ASPECT #1:
So how can we know the past
with certainty if there are yet ______ to fill? Let's look at the Real-Life Situation http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/02/serbian-president-denies-srebrenica-genocide ...This is Tomislav Nikolic, the newly right-wing elected Serbian President He just recently denied the
Srebrenica Genocide of 1995 "There was no genocide in Srebrenica. In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs who should be found, prosecuted and punished."

"It is very difficult to indict someone and prove before a court that an event qualifies as genocide." gaps ... here's what Tomislav Nikolic said: What happened at Srebrenica? According to BBC, "in the five days after Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, more than 7,000 Muslim men are thought to have been killed", by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladi. = a mass murder which was described by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Can we know the past with certainty even if there are dramatically different perspectives on the issue? Who is wrong and who's right? = by thinking of an argument in terms of only two sides, we may encounter a false dilemma = a fallacy of absolutism We know that language is ambiguous and arbitrary; word choice ("grave war crime" vs. "genocide") can dramatically effect our perception and understanding of the past... NOT ALWAYS! Though the objective truth of facts can't be disputed, even facts and statistics are subjected to manipulation... body counts, for example, aren't exactly precise - estimates always differ depending on the source reporting... Where's the historical accuracy now? Thus, if language is vague and imprecise, the logical argument one would assume is that it's better to use concrete information/facts/statistics/numbers!!!... ...Right? We always assume that we know the
past... but do we really? Was the
Srebrenica Massacre a genocide, grave war crime or something else entirely?
And if so, does this mean that humankind will always use confirmation bias to interpret events and manipulate them as a means of arriving only at the desirable lessons and morals of History? Knowledge is defined by Richard van de Lagemaat, author of the Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma Guide, as: Justified, true belief Different Perspectives = Different Sources Differentiation between primary sources secondary sources & Unless you witnessed the genocide, you're likely to get your information from a secondary source What you acquire is second-hand knowledge (= knowledge by authority, or knowledge testimony.
Beware of (blindly accepting what we are told) authority worship Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines Genocide as "any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as": Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group; Mr. Nikolic is not disputing the of the Srebrenica Massacre (several thousand people were indeed killed). Rather, by calling the massacre a "grave war crime", Nikolic refuses to associate the Serbian authorities with the premeditated and deliberate that is referred in the UN's definition of genocide. objective truth intent to kill Distinction between the "past" vs. our "knowledge/perception of the past" ASPECT #2: Cannot always be taken at face value = they may be already "contaminated" Fallible eye-witness
Social bias
Deliberate manipulation ASPECT #3: ASPECT #5: ASPECT #4: ASPECT #6: Which perspective do we side with? The Cubist of Truth Theory "Nearness to Truth" =
the collection of different perspectives/perceptions/truths Can help "rule out" biases, manipulation, and historical incongruousness ASPECT #9: ASPECT #10: Significance: ASPECT #1: There are gaps in history waiting to be filled in; Conclusion of Srebrenica Genocide Real-Life Situation ASPECT #2: Different perspectives is often correlated with the existence of a variety of different sources; ASPECT #3: Primary sources can be equally reliable or unreliable; ASPECT #4: The majority of people obtain their information from secondary sources = gain second-hand knowledge, and become more prone to the perils of "authority worship"; ASPECT #5: (PERCEPTON) Difference between the past vs. our knowledge/perception of the past; ASPECT #6: (LANGUAGE) Language can be both imprecise and ambiguous; ASPECT #9: Fallacy of Absolutism/False Dilemma of "Who's right and who's wrong?"
ASPECT #10: The Theory of Cubist Truth in assembling different perspectives Synthesis! “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill BBC's 'Story Highlights':
Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years, leaving 150,000 dead
Young Lebanese growing up with little formal education about the conflict
To avoid inflaming hostilities, Lebanese history textbooks stop in 1943
Teaching of history in Lebanon is "subject to the interests of various political groups," says minister of education Lebanon Alternative
Real-Life Situation http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/08/world/meast/lebanon-civil-war-history/index.html Nowadays, due to greater awareness and the influence of technology (i.e. the internet), the "vanquished" have greater chances of sharing their perceptions... "History is written by the victors" = If we're to affirm that:
Historians usually make a selection from all available evidence when writing history;
And that primary sources are a selective interpretation of events by the witness-account; In Lebanon's case, because of "flaming hostilities" (and in an attempt of the current government to avoid another civil war and to maintain power) = the victors have chosen to "play it safe" Moreover We can conclude that what we read in history textbooks, for example, is simply a "selection of a selection"... ASPECT #7: ASPECT #8: ASPECT #7: Much of History has been written by the victors, even though technology today has helped spread the stories and perspectives of the "vanquished side"; Conclusion of Lebanon Textbook Alternative Real-Life Situation ASPECT #8: Written history is often a "selection of a selection" = not all the information available is displayed... rather, the only information displayed is that which the author deemed necessary... who's to say that there isn't an intent to manipulate and brainwash? What impacts does this have in our society? Sciences: Pangaea (theories are formulated using fossils. coastal shapes and other vestiges despite us not having any written documents of such times)
Economics: Economic Theory is readjusted along historic timeline in response to cyclical recessions/depressions (brute force); Relating to other AOKs... "Analysis: Defining Genocide." BBC News. BBC, 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-11108059>.

Lagemaat, Richard Van De. Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

Maktabi, Rima. "Lebanon's Missing History: Why School Books Ignore the past - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 08 June 2012. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/08/world/meast/lebanon-civil-war-history/index.html>.

Sarajevo, Reuters In. "Serbian President Denies Srebrenica Genocide." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 June 2012. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/02/serbian-president-denies-srebrenica-genocide>. Works Cited by Francisco Gonçalves
Srebrenica (1995) + definition of genocide IS THIS APPLICABLE TO TODAY'S SOCIETY?
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