What is History?
From the IB History Subject Guide
History is a dynamic, contested, evidence-based discipline that involves an exciting engagement with the past. It is a rigorous intellectual discipline, focused around key historical concepts such as change, causation and significance.
History is an exploratory subject that fosters a sense of inquiry. It is also an interpretive discipline, allowing opportunity for engagement with multiple perspectives and a plurality of opinions. Studying history develops an understanding of the past, which leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of humans and of the world today.
The IB Diploma Programme (DP) history course is a world history course based on a comparative and multi-perspective approach to history. It involves the study of a variety of types of history, including political, economic, social and cultural, and provides a balance of structure and flexibility. The course emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to think historically and to develop historical skills as well as gaining factual knowledge. It puts a premium on developing the skills of critical thinking, and on developing an understanding of multiple interpretations of history. In this way, the course involves a challenging and demanding critical exploration of the past.
There are six key concepts that have particular prominence throughout the DP history course.
When studying history, students should always be thinking about these six elements and should not think of them in isolation.
Continuity versus Change Over Time - What stayed the same and what changed? What were the causes of the change, but also, what were the causes that led to continuity. What were the effects of the change, or what were the effects of things continuing? Why were some causes more significant than others and why were some effects more significant than others? What is the significance of the change or the continuity (i.e. why is this particular piece of history important)? Am I, the historian, looking at this historical problem from one perspective when there may be other perspectives that change the way I see the cause and effect and continuity versus change over time or the significance? Am I building an argument on a historian's book without thinking about his/her perspective and how that might influence the way he/she has interpreted the events. Am I reading a source from a person who witnessed or was a part of the event, and does their perspective influence they way they interpreted what was happening?
These six elements are key parts of the historical investigation for every historical problem and period. Students should always think about all six of the key concepts when learning something new, or especially when they are developing their own point of view.
What does it mean to "do" history rather than simply study history?
History, like all areas of knowledge, or subjects, is about creating knowledge. It is a creative process. All subjects are ultimately a creative process. Unfortunately, in school we tend to only study the accomplishments of others, and therefore, we do not really see or understand the creative process.
Historians study the past by searching what previous historians have written and by seeking out sources of the past in the form of primary sources such as pictures, letters, speeches, anything that comes from the past, really. But there is a step beyond the simple study of the past. There is a step beyond simply collecting and organizing facts. Historians organize facts in order to make a point--an argument about the past. The academic field of history is not a recap of the past because there are always gaps. History is about filling in those gaps with an argument about cause and effect, continuity and change over time, and significance.
Creating those arguments is what historians do. Simply remembering facts is not history. History is a creative process and is therefore, always changing. This is why IB describes history as "a dynamic, contested, evidence-based discipline."
If History is the creation of an argument about the past, Historiography is the study of the way in which those arguments themselves have changed over time.
One should not assume that historical arguments are set for a given generation, and then over time change. This can, and does happen. [For example, students often learned of Feudalism as the social and economic system of the Middle Ages in Europe. However, more recent scholarship has suggested that "feudalism," as taught, is a gross oversimplification, and that in case studies one is hard pressed to find two areas in Medieval Europe that show identical feudal structures and customs.] But more often, there are competing historical theories, competing historical perspectives, competing claims to the relative significance of the various causes and consequences of a historical event.
When doing pure Historiography, the historian will make an argument about reasons for the changing and evolving arguments. Sometimes, the new archives, new sources, are uncovered. Sometimes, new perspectives emerge. Often, cultural attitudes outside of History shift, and the Historian is subject to those influences and begins to rethink, to question, to approach a topic from a previously unused perspective. The end result is often a paper arguing why (rather than just illustrating) the historical argument has undergone change.
Often, Historiography is the first step in doing History. One must find the Historical arguments, the answers to why things happened the way they did, before one is able to develop one's own answer.
A student of history will produce a paper, (or museum-style exhibit, documentary, website, &c...) to the Historiography. This contribution may be a paper that synthesizes two or more answers, a paper that criticizes an answer based on new evidence or new perspective, a paper that furthers an argument by adding a case study (or other new evidence) that supports the argument, a paper or a paper that bridges the gap between arguments. While no one expects a beginner to produce Ph.D. level contributions, it is important to remember the difference between a report and research. A report simply paraphrases an answer. Research leads one to create his/her own unique answer. The uniqueness need not be Earth-shattering nor historiographically-upheaving, but it is still unique none-the-less.
What students say about History and Historiography?
The IB History and Historiography of Europe Course
The IB History and Historiography curriculum has a wide variety of topics from which teachers choose what interests them and their students. At Douglas County High School, we require that every IB student takes the Higher Level (HL) history course. This means that students take a comparative history from different regions of the world and a region specific history course (In this case, the History of Europe). For DCHS credits, there are two classes -- IB comparative World History, and IB History of Europe. However, the classes will be taught as a single two year IB History and Historiography course.
Given the available topics for this class, this course will focus on a comparison of the medieval military leaders Richard the Lionhearted of England and the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, Medieval Society, and the Transition from the Medieval to the Early Modern Period.