Connecting Thursdays

Historical Imagination


Welcome to the first of our Connecting Thursdays posts, where each week we’ll feature a specific example from one of our many detailed TOK Connections Guides illuminating how TOK thinking can be quickly and easily integrated into courses across the DP curriculum.

These posts will naturally be of direct relevance to DP coordinators, TOK teachers, the subject teachers corresponding to particular posts and DP librarians. 

Historical Imagination 

Many people simply assume that, since the business of history is to understand the past, the only real stumbling block to doing so is finding the appropriate evidence to tell us what precisely occurred. 

Those with a deeper understanding of TOK will appreciate that it’s not quite that simple, as different interpretations of the same results can lead to strikingly different conclusions.  After all, just because we all agree on what actually happened, they will rightfully tell us, hardly means that we will all agree on why it happened.  

But even that is not the end of the subtle story.  Because there are often times that the skillful historian can use her imagination to extract valuable insights from what everyone agrees didn’t actually happen at all.  In other words, they will directly harness imagination as a way of knowing. 

Sir John Elliott, the eminent Spanish historian at the University of Oxford, gives us a concrete taste of how this is done, directly harnessing Sherlock Holmes’ famous technique of paying attention to “the dog that doesn’t bark in the night” in the video clip called Non-Barking Dogs.

This clip not only gives students a clear and penetrating example of how using our imagination can directly assist the knowledge process (a point which often presents significant confusion in TOK courses), it also sheds valuable light on the important use of the counterfactual to develop historical understanding: contemplating the lessons that might be drawn from why some things that could have happened actually didn’t

For many more concrete examples of how TOK overlaps with history, see the Ideas Roadshow TOK Connections Guide for History, directly available in both the Teacher Resources section and the Student Section on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal .

Relevant Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP video resources and supporting materials include TOK Connections Guide for History, History TOK Sampler, Developing Understanding TOK Sampler, Slavery and Revolution, Divining the Date, Knowledge vs. Understanding, Non-Barking Dogs.