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Real-world issues about history

Real-world issues about history

These real-world issues about history will help you to explore knowledge questions, analyse the latest events and issues related to this AOK, and apply TOK terms, ideas, and concepts to authentic situations.

You can also use these issues as discussion points within lessons, examples to support your essay arguments, and case studies to show how TOK manifests in world around us in your exhibition commentary.

Real-world issues on the nature and scope of history

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 1, our first BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to the nature and scope of history, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for TOK
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Guardian article, asking the question, ‘Can history teach us anything about the future of war and peace?’ 

This History Today article considers how seemingly mundane objects – architecture, art, dress, furniture – can provide us with a huge amount of knowledge on aspects such as education, wealth, pleasures, loves, and the trajectory of people’s lives.

In a New Humanist review of a new book by Niall Ferguson, Charlotte Riley considers the nature of historical enquiry, and the relationship between historians and the facts.

A History Today article, in which four historians offer their thoughts on the question, ‘What is history?’ 

An Aeon video, looking at how significant historical footage is ‘locked’ behind paywalls, meaning ordinary knowers are unable to draw on it when they study the past.

A History Today article, which asserts that we “need to keep listening to voices from the past…because we cannot know who in the future may need to hear them.” 

Real-world issues on the relationship between history and values

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 2, our second BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to history and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for TOK
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

An Art Newspaper article, discussing the importance of facing up to the complete histories of monuments and buildings, even when they are morally murky. 

A New Humanist article, which considers the importance of remembering historical injustices, as a way of guarding against the misuse of power in the present.

A History Today article, taking a broad look at the debate surrounding statues that celebrate controversial characters from the past. 

This BBC article considers the case of British footballer Wayne Hennessey, who claimed that he did not know who Adolf Hitler was, and was therefore unaware of the significance of doing a Nazi salute.

Smithsonian article, looking at an art exhibition that presents the historical evidence used against David Irving when he sued Deborah Lipstadt for referring to him as a Holocaust denier.

Real-world issues on the communication of ideas in history

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 3, our third BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of history, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Conversation article, examining the ‘slippery slope’ of using deepfakes to gain an understanding of the past. 

History Today article, in which the dangers of translations – and mistranslations – are discussed.

This Vox video analyses one of the most famous historical photo – “Raising a Flag over the Reichstag” – taken at the end of World War II. It looks at the way in which the photo was doctored, and the reasons for the changes made.

A Washington Post article, looking at how the founding generation of the United States – like the leaders of any other nation – rewrote the past to consolidate their position in the present.

A CNN article, which looks at how Joe Biden referred to events in Tulsa 100 years ago as a massacre – not a riot.

This BBC video features the work of Marina Amaral. She recolours photos from the past, creating images that seem to resonate more with us than the black and white originals.

Real-world issues on history, perspectives, and context

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 4, our fourth BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A short History Today article, looking at EH Carr’s famous assertion that historians “fish for the truth”.

This Smithsonian article looks at the way the Spanish government and society has ‘handled’ its past, and the way this impacts on individuals whose families were caught up in the struggles that characterised the Civil War (and Franco) era.

A Washington Post article about a new book – offering a new perspective – on the life and legacy of George Washington.

A Guardian article, looking at the different ways in which the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes is perceived by different governments and interest groups today.

This Guardian article considers how denial about the facts of the Srebrenica massacre are gaining ground.

This Conversation story looks at two different biographies that have recently been written about the controversial Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former first lady of South Africa, and former wife of iconic Nelson Mandela.

Real-world issues on the creation of new ideas in history

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 5, our fifth BQ units for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of history, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A History Today article, asserting that dressing in historical clothing can give us a greater insight into reality than more ‘intellectual’ methods of accessing the past.

A History Today article, which explores how filling in the historical gaps about the past “requires the techniques of a novelist”.

This Reuters article focuses on the plans by the new Brazilian government to revise history by re-labelling the 1964 military uprising and subsequent military dictatorship as vital movements that were necessary in the context of the Cold War.

A New York Times article about researchers who are trying to recreate the kind of smells that defined Europe from the 16th century to the early 20th century.

This Big Think article/podcast examines how ‘big history’ is helping us to explore the role of women wielding power and influence in eight premodern societies spanning five continents and more than 4,000 years.

Vladimir Kara-Murza (who happens to be an ex-student of Michael Dunn!) considers in the Washington Post why the Soviet-Afghan war is being ‘revised’ by the current Russian government, and viewed in a different light.

Real-world issues on becoming a discerning knower about history

  • These issues on history relate to Big Question 6, our final BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of history, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A History Today article, looking at how history is a “never ending process”, and that it’s vital to have the ability to change your mind about your conclusions and judgements.

A Now and Then video, looking at the extent to which we can – and should – apply objectivity to our study of the past.

A Telegraph article, considering the historical inaccuracies of the movie, Braveheart, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

This Guardian article and photos look at an English Heritage reenactment of the Battle of Hastings of 1066, when the Normans invaded and conquered England.

Explore related events and issues

Investigating Issues offers you a completely new way to plan and teach TOK. The resource gathers together over 120 major global issues, provides a collection of media sources to explore each one, and suggests ways to link them to the different elements of the TOK course and to the 12 key concepts.

Unpack these issues & link them to TOK

Our sixty-six Exploration Point documents (updated every month) help you delve deeper into TOK via media sources, unpacking ideas, guidance on the key concepts, and other tips. HERE is an example of a EP document (for history & perspectives) – join us to gain access to the other sixty-five!

Subscribe to the TOK newsletter

Our TOK newsletter helps you explore the most important events and issues going on today, and fully grasp how TOK concepts manifest in the real world. Read a recent edition here, subscribe to the free version here, and gain access to the premium version by joining theoryofknowledge.net.