History has been defined as a study of the recorded past. This area of knowledge has continuously raised knowledge questions like whether it is possible to speak with certainty concerning an event that took place in the past. 

Despite such complexities, studying history has been essential in deepening our understanding of the present through reflections of the past.

Due to the fact that historical knowledge can never be absolute, documentary evidence has played a fundamental role when it comes to this area of knowledge.

As shown by various history knowledge questions, the reliability of evidence is dependent on the judgment of the historian. One of the main objectives of historical study is making sense of past events.

Ways of knowing such as sense perception and memory are therefore vital to this process. In addition, based on the fact that history cannot be revisited as it is not present anymore, makes it unique when compared to other IB areas of knowledge.

Additionally, while most historians base their assertions on tangible evidence, the interpretation of this information is critical to the production of historical knowledge.

As pointed out earlier, experts within this area of knowledge cannot conduct experiments to ascertain the validity of knowledge issues or claims. However, historians have developed alternative methods that they use to gather information.

Despite the fact these methods differ significantly when compared to areas of knowledge such as the sciences, they are still considered credible methods of inquiry.

In some cases, these methods do not apply as the overwhelming amount of evidence can be used to confidently claim that a historical fact is completely accurate.

Examples and Explanations

Example #1

presecribed title
  • Claim - During the generation of a resolution there is a fruitful exchange of knowledge, opinions, and views.
    Example – Integration of feminist points of view in sociological history
  • Counterclaim - Dissenting opinions in history can result in the development of confirmation bias.
    Example – Contention on the definition of the Industrial Revolution. 

This area of knowledge is celebrated because it is composed of intellectual communities that are governed by aspects such as constructive criticism and mutual respect.

As shown in many theory of knowledge essay formats, the preeminent value of history is based on the presence of reasoned discourse.

During the pursuit of topics of mutual interest, historians often assess diverse points of view in order to learn from the knowledge claims by the different experts.

By integrating aspects such as impartiality and ways of knowing such as sense perception, experts are able to develop commitments to such discourse which ensure that equal attention is provided to both sides. 

Such factors help guarantee that during the generation of a resolution there is a fruitful exchange of knowledge, opinions, and views. A TOK essay real-life example that highlights this fact is the integration of feminist points of view in sociological history.

Before the 1920s, there existed a consensus on the perspectives present in sociological history. However, after this period, disagreements arose when the feminist movement argued that their points of view needed to be integrated.

The evaluation of the different points of view resulted in the discovery and emergence of fundamental historical information that in the past had not been studied.

This aspect shows that the presence of disagreements in the primary levels of research can result in resolutions that lead to the development of new conclusions.

On the counterclaim, one can also argue that dissenting opinions in history can result in the development of confirmation bias. By prompting researchers to examine each of the conflicting knowledge claims, it can lead to a lack of agreement when it comes to a specific hypothesis.

For instance, up to the 1970s and 1980s, historians acknowledged that the industrial revolution was a period that consisted of dramatic growth, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This information was validated by evidence produced during the 1950s by researchers such as Phelps-Brown and Hopkins.

However, this idea was soon challenged by economists such as Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson who contested that the methodologies used were invalid.

Instead of resulting in the production of more accurate knowledge, this disagreement has in the recent past continuously hindered the perception of the industrial revolution.

The analysis of both sides in this case did not result in the resolution of the disagreements but resulted in the development of disputes. As shown in most tok essay samples, history is based on written and oral accounts which cannot be comprehensively verified.

This aspect makes the presence of disagreements detrimental to the production of knowledge because some of the knowledge can be lost, altered, or omitted.

Example #2

“Reliable knowledge can lack certainty.” Explore this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

In comparison to other areas of knowledge such as the natural sciences, history is considered significantly different. This is with respect to its methods of data collection and the manner in which new knowledge is validated.

Therefore, historians cannot apply techniques used in knowledge inquiry such as experimentation to prove the validity of historical knowledge.

Various tok essay structures have also shown how technology also affects inquiry in this area of knowledge. The methods of documentation present in the past are not the same as that is used today. This presents a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the justification of knowledge claims because they are based on an expert’s interpretation.

Regardless of this fact, the proof presented for certain events in history is not necessarily questioned. Historical knowledge can be considered reliable despite the lack of certainty.

For instance, historians do not doubt the death of Napoleon on the isle of St. Helena because they cannot access photographic evidence that documented the event.

Alternatively, based on the tok essay rubric attached to this prescribed title, it is important to establish how historians can be certain of their perceptions and in extension, the evidence they possess?

Historical knowledge based on facts should include the idea of certainty as a necessary consequence. Over the years, experts with this area of knowledge have come up with methodologies that guarantee the certainty of specific pieces of knowledge.

Through aspects such as net of available independent evidence is tight enough, historians determine whether a point of absolute certainty has been reached.

For example, based on photographic and video evidence that shows the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., historians are certain of his death. This shows that reliable knowledge does not have to possess uncertainty.