What is the role of professional historians? (August 2019)

Do professional historians play a key role in society?

Discuss in pairs any professional historians that you know of from your own country. What do they write about? Why are they well-known? Are they active on television or social media or are they known through their academic works?

Now read this article from the Economist magazine which focuses on the the current political turbulence in the UK and how the current writing of history has affected this:

The study of history is in decline in Britain (The Economist)

As the country navigates a historic period, it is losing its skill at interpreting the past.


In pairs, discuss these questions:

  • Do you agree with the author that the trend of historians to investigate topics other than those of ‘great matters of state’ has gone too far? Should they, as the author argues at the end of the article ‘..escape from their intellectual caves and start paying more attention to big subjects such as the history of politics, power and nation-states.’?
  • Does it matter if students at school get ‘a mish mash of history’? What have you learned at school about the history of your own country? 
  • What history do you think students should learn at school? What do you hope to gain from your IB history course?
  • Should learning history in fact be compulsory? And should that history be focused on the history of students' own country? What are the possible dangers of this?
  • Do you agree that ‘history is a safeguard’ against making the mistakes of the past?
  • Can you think of examples where a knowledge of history would have helped current politicians avoid mistakes or where it would have improved their policies?
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