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Quotes on history

Quotes on history

These quotes will kick-start your exploration of history, and help you reflect on your own understanding of this area of knowledge.

Which quotes do you find the most and least insightful? Do the quotes challenge or support your understanding of history? What do the quotes reveal about the way history interlinks with the TOK themes, and the other areas of knowledge?

Quotes on the nature and scope of history

  • These quotes on history relate to Big Question 1 (What is history, and why do we study it?), the first unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  • They also link to the nature and scope of the arts, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

History offers us vicarious experience. It allows the youngest student to possess the ground equally with his elders; without a knowledge of history to give him a context for present events, he is at the mercy of every social misdiagnosis handed to him.
Hilary Mantel

History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.
Konrad Adenauer

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.
James Baldwin

History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.
Ambrose Bierce

History is more or less bunk.
Henry Ford

History never looks like history when you are living through it.
John W. Gardner

Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?
Carl Jung

Imagination is always the fabric of social life and the dynamic of history. The influence of real needs and compulsions, of real interests and materials, is indirect because the crowd is never conscious of it.
Simone Weil

History is Philosophy teaching by example.
Thucydides

History should be written as philosophy.
Voltaire

History is the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us.
Johan Huizinga

History is the only true teacher, the revolution the best school for the proletariat.
Rosa Luxemburg

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.
Aldous Huxley

History is, strictly speaking, the study of questions; the study of answers belongs to anthropology and sociology.
W. H. Auden

History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.
John Henrik Clarke

Quotes on the relationship between history and values

  • These quotes on history relate to Big Question 2 (How does our knowledge about the world inform our values?), the second unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  • They also link to the arts and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
Edward Gibbon

Governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducted from it.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Psychology keeps trying to vindicate human nature. History keeps undermining the effort.
Mason Cooley

History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.
David McCullough

World history is a court of judgment.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Quotes on the communication of ideas in history

  1. These quotes on history relate to Big Question 3 (How is our understanding influenced by the way knowledge is communicated?), the third unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  2. They also link to methods, tools, and practices of the arts, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  3. Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.
Theodor Adorno

In a sense, words are encyclopedias of ignorance because they freeze perceptions at one moment in history and then insist we continue to use these frozen perceptions when we should be doing better.
Edward de Bono

Language is an archaeological vehicle… the language we speak is a whole palimpsest of human effort and history.
Russell Hoban

History, a distillation of rumour.
Thomas Carlyle

The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.
A. Whitney Brown

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.
Napoleon Bonaparte

History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.
Alexis de Tocqueville

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.
Rudyard Kipling

History books that contain no lies are extremely dull.
Anatole France

Quotes on history, perspectives, and context

  • These quotes on history relate to Big Question 4 (How do our perspectives and biases shape our knowledge?), the fourth unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context related to the arts, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Winston Churchill 

History is written by the victors.
Winston Churchill 

The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
Mark Twain 

History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice.
Will Durant 

God cannot alter the past, though historians can.
Samuel Butler 

History is a vision of God’s creation on the move.
Arnold J. Toynbee 

The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.
Peter Berger

Quotes on the creation of new ideas in history

  1. These quotes on history relate to Big Question 5 (How is new knowledge about the world created?), the third unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  2. They also link to methods, tools, and practices of the arts, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  3. Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

We are not makers of history. We are made by history.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

History is a race between education and catastrophe.
H. G. Wells

The past always seems somehow more golden, more serious, than the present. We tend to forget the partisanship of yesteryear, preferring to re-imagine our history as a sure and steady march toward greatness.
Jon Meacham

History takes time. History makes memory.
Gertrude Stein

History develops, art stands still.
E. M. Forster

The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.
Robert Rauschenberg

Thanks to television, for the first time the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders.
Margaret Mead

You have to look at history as an evolution of society.
Jean Chretien

Newspapers are the second hand of history. This hand, however, is usually not only of inferior metal to the other hands, it also seldom works properly.
Arthur Schopenhauer

Quotes on becoming a discerning knower about history

  • These quotes on history relate to Big Question 6 (How do we become discerning knowers?), the final unit of our BQ approach to TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context related to the arts, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

All humanity is passion; without passion, religion, history, novels, art would be ineffectual.
Honore de Balzac

If good history is dispassionate history, it must naturally wait until the passions of the period subside.
James Buchan

To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.
Hermann Hesse

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.
Aristotle

Literature overtakes history, for literature gives you more than one life. It expands experience and opens new opportunities to readers.
Carlos Fuentes

It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
Henry James

Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.
H. L. Mencken

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.
Plato

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