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History Notes - Theory of Knowledge

I know you'll find these TOK History notes helpful, but there is an even better version available to our supporting members here (the full History notes) --along with some very helpful TOK videos and other sources for your TOK essay and exhibitions. Click here to join IBMastery.

History Quotes

  • “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past.” (Edward Gibbon)
  • "We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let's face it, is mostly the history of stupidity." (Stephen Hawking)
  • “Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their actions, but ignorant of their causes.” (Baruch Spinoza)
  • "History is but the register of human crimes and misfortunes." (Voltaire)
  • "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." (Winston Churchill)
  • "Historians are dangerous people. They are capable of upsetting everything." (Nikita Khrushchev)
  • "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana)
  • "What is history but a fable agreed upon?"  (Napoleon Bonaparte)
  • "Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it." (Oscar Wilde)
  • "A page of history is worth a volume of logic." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
  • "History gives a sense of identity, is a defence against propaganda, enriches our understanding of human nature." (Lagemaat, 2009)
  •  "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." (Mark Twain)
  • "That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history." (Aldous Huxley)  
  • "If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind." (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Definition of history

  • History is "the branch of knowledge that deals with past events; the formal record or study of past events, especially human affairs." (OECD)

Insights from history

History helps people to learn about the past. To look a bit deeper, it helps us to:

  • Strengthen a sense of identity within a community. Individuals can learn about the experiences of their ancestors and this can inform how they see themselves.
    Understand macro trends, such as the rise of democracy or market economics.
  • Understand how things actually happen in societies (i.e. how social conventions change over time) or how they break-down (i.e. how wars begin). Two examples from The Lessons of History:
    • "The laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history. We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest to survive" (The Lessons of History).
    • "One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection. How often in the past have God and religion died and been reborn! . . . Atheism ran wild in the India of Buddha's youth, and Buddha himself founded a religion without a god; after his death Buddhism developed a complex theology including gods, saints, and hell." 
  • Understand human nature and what is possible. As R. G. Collingwood said, "History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
  • Reflect on their own values. American historian Carl Becker said, "The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves -- a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future."  
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Cite this page as:
Woods, Tim. “History Notes - Theory of Knowledge” IBMastery 2 April 2021. Web. <>