Connecting Thursdays

Porous Boundaries

In what ways does historical knowledge progress?

For many people, it’s hard to think of a more static field of endeavour than history.  After all, everything that historians study happened in the past – often in the quite distant past – and the past, famously, doesn’t have the capacity to change. 

Those developing a TOK-related understanding may start to appreciate that things are not quite that black and white, as our current cultural values condition us to look differently at the same historical events than others who possess a different background would likely do.  

But what even a sophisticated TOK-aware person might miss is that some of those very values explicitly include historical categories themselves.  In this clip, Princeton University historian David Cannadine describes how recent historical understanding is beginning to re-assess the views that past historians thought were, well, written in stone.   

It’s worth mentioning that the filter of religious conflict is hardly the only one that Professor Cannadine takes aim at in his work on re-appraising what he calls the “boundaries of identity” as historical justification. In his book, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, and virtually all of the associated Ideas Roadshow IBDP videos, he examines no less than six different categories of what he calls “collective identity and collective antagonism” – religion, nation, class, gender, race and civilization – to demonstrate that, properly viewed, a proper historical understanding is invariably vastly more complicated than most people recognize.

Related resources and supporting materials that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to explicitly integrate TOK in history:  TOK Connections Guide for History, TOK Connections Guide for English A: Language & Literature, TOK Connections Guide for SCA, Rethinking History (TOK), Towards Better Explanations (TOK), The Historian’s Task (TOK), History TOK Sampler.


Extending Wednesdays

The Derveni Papyrus

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the History section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where University of Michigan classicist Richard Janko describes the Derveni Papyrus, a half-burned manuscript found on an ancient funeral pyre in northern Greece in 1962.

This makes it the oldest surviving European book, with the common consensus being that the funeral took place sometime in the 4th century BCE.  While that alone would certainly justify historical interest, that turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg, because by far the most fascinating thing about the Derveni Papyrus isn’t its age, but rather what it actually says. Make sure to watch the video called The Derveni Papyrus.

The story of the Derveni Papyrus is a fascinating combination of archaeology, mythology, science, politics and sociology with no one clear professional consensus that has emerged to date.  Professor Janko, for his part, believes that it strongly supports the view of a “culture war” between rival camps of “traditional religion” and “modern science” in Classical Athens. 

Given this breadth of impact combined with its narrow focus on a particular manuscript, an associated extended essay could go off in many intriguing directions, from a history of the manuscript itself, funeral practices in the classical world, the technology of deciphering ancient manuscripts, cultural tension in ancient Athenian society, and many other topics.  

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clips Ancient Culture Wars?, Divining the Date, Idealizing Democracy and Putting the Pieces Together, the compilation videos Classical Greece, Being a Historian and History and Politics, and the eBook and hour-long video The Derveni Papyrus.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.