Theory of Knowledge

Last updated June 2020.

Senior Library collection

A short history of nearly everything

It is a book about how science works, and how scientists know what they know.

What is history?

Who is to say how things really were? In formulating a modern answer to the question 'What is History?' Professor Carr shows that the 'facts' of history are simply those which historians have selected for scrutiny.  All historical facts come to us as a result of interpretative choices by historians influenced by the standards of their age. Yet if absolute objectivity is impossible, the role of the historian need in no way suffer; nor does history lose its fascination. 

Virtual History

Virtual History applies 'counterfactual' arguments to decisive moments in modern history. What if Britain had stayed out of the First World War? What if Germany had invaded Britain in 1940? What if Nazi Germany had defeated the Soviet Union?

Why the West rules - for now : the patterns of history, and what they reveal about the future

Explains that Western dominance is largely the result of the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate. As geography and human ingenuity continue to interact, however, the world over the next hundred years will subsequently change in astonishing ways, transforming Western rule in the process


Collapse moves from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. 

A Little History of the World

E. H. Gombrich's bestselling history of the world for young readers tells the story of mankind from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, focusing not on small detail but on the sweep of human experience, the extent of human achievement, and the depth of its frailty.

Videos on History

Click to see how to cite 'The Mathematics of History' video

Articles on History

History - Key concepts

Key words

bias, cubist history, economic determinism, empathy,  hindsight bias, self-realising expectations, great person theory of history

Key concepts

'The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events' - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

'History gives a sense of identity, is a defence against propaganda, enriches our understanding of human nature'  (Lagemaat, 2009)

What is history? - A study of the past. We can know the past only to the extent we have evidence for it, history is more a study of the past as of the present traces of the past.  History is a record of significant events in the past.

History gives a sense of identity, is a defence against propaganda, enriches our understanding of human nature

How can we know about the past? What are the methods of history? What counts as historical evidence ? What is the role of the historian?

History and personal knowledge The past is gone, but its effects live on in the present in both the finest of our achievements and the worst of our conflicts

Historians, perspectives and historical fact - Historians approach their study from different perspectives depending on their personal backgrounds, the contexts in which they live and work, and the theoretical emphases within their professional training

Perspectives and post modern thought - In successive historical periods in thought, or with successive theories, different dominant ideas are contributed to academic and public discussion

Developments of history : perspectives on patterns - As they research and write, historians are working within concepts of larger patterns of time and history.

Theories of History - The 'great person' theory of history - holds that the course of history is mainly determined by great individuals. Economic determinism - According to Marx, it is not great individuals but rather technological and economic factors that are the engines of historical change. 

History - Quotes

'It is surprising that history should be so dull considering so much of it is invented.' Jane Austen

'History is but the register of human crimes and misfortunes'  Voltaire

'The history of the world is but the biography of great men'  Thomas Carlyle

'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

'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

Weblinks - History

A history of the world in 100 objects


History - Questions for reflection

??  Is it possible for historical writing to be free from perspective? 

??  What is a fact in history?

??  How can historical accounts be assessed?

??  How can one gauge the extent to which a history is told from a particular cultural or national perspective?

?? To what extent do you think that people learn from their mistakes, and to what extent do you think they keep making the same mistakes?

?? If you keep a diary, what determines what you choose to include and what you choose to omit?

?? What is the relation between the style of language used and the history written?

?? What distinguishes a better historical account from a worse one? 

?? How do we decide which events are historically significant? 

The Landscape of history