Officially, historiography is “the writing of history” but it can generally be thought to refer to other historians’ perspectives on a historical event or figure. It is crucial you include historiography in your essays. Especially if you are aiming for a high score (6+) in IB History. The IB states in their mark scheme that in order to receive a 13-15 on a paper there must be “an evaluation of different perspectives, and it must be integrated effectively into the answer.”
It can be quite difficult at first to memorise and incorporate historiography naturally into your essays. This is usually because it is quite specific and a new concept for most students. However, there are two ways to make this aspect of IB History a little easier.
Throughout your course, you will encounter historiography through your teacher, textbooks, or personal external research. Whenever you find a quote or a school of thought, note it down in a separate document or spreadsheet. If you are able to, create a shared spreadsheet with your classmates. Each student can update then it with any useful historiography that they find. You can further organise this spreadsheet by including additional columns for schools of thought or specific topics. Having all of your historiographies in one collective place makes it a lot easier to review them rather than having to look through pages and pages of notes.
Furthermore, you can use flashcards to help memorise some specific quotes or overarching perspectives. Write the historian or school of thought on one side. On the other side of the flashcard, write their quote or what the explanation of the perspective is. Go through them periodically and it will help you to memorise them in the long term.
With regards to which historiography to memorise, it is important to remember that it will be incredibly difficult to memorise every piece of historiography relating to your curriculum. This is Especially if there are many long quotes. Try and find historiography that can be applicable to large portions of your curriculum’s content and memorise those. That way, you can incorporate that historiography into a variety of different essay topics.
You can also memorise an overview of a historian’s perspective or a smaller section of their quote, rather than memorising the entirety of the quote provided. As cliche as the saying is: “work smarter, not harder”. Only choose the most relevant and versatile pieces of historiography instead of simply memorising everything.
One example from my personal curriculum is with Paper 2 Authoritarian States, specifically Hitler’s Rise to Power. I always used Ian Kershaw’s Hitler Myth. This is the idea that Hitler’s charisma and oratory skills were the main reasons for the Nazi Party’s success. This was so useful for this particular topic because I did not have to memorise long quotes. On top of that, it fit into most Rise to Power questions that came up in exams.
When incorporating historiography into your essays, it is important to remember that you should not simply be mentioning historians or schools of thought for the sake of doing so. Historiography should not replace your arguments but instead support them. One way to ensure this is to build your argument first and incorporate historiography towards the end of your paragraph. You can use phrases such as:
- This perspective is shared by…
- In reference to ______, [historian] stated that…
- This view is contrasted by…
- On the other hand, [historian] has stated that…
Once you have added historiography to your argument, offer your personal opinion on it in the context of your essay and evaluate that piece of historiography. Do you agree with this historian or school of thought, and why or why not? This helps to show that you truly understand what it is you are talking about. It also shows that the historiography is actually adding value to your essay.
One example where I did this in an essay was for the following exam question:
“Discuss the view that the use of force was the main method used to establish authoritarian rule in one state you have studied.”
“One of the more successful ways in which the Nazis rose to power was through Hitler’s cult of personality and his oratory skills. Kershaw was a strong proponent of the ‘Hitler Myth’ which is the idea that Hitler was successful for the Nazi’s rise to power and that, without him, the Nazi party would not have succeeded. Kershaw stated that it was Hitler that engaged and persuaded many people who would have otherwise only been marginally interested in the NSDAP.” (Cho, 2022)
At the end of the day, it is more important to have strong arguments and evidence rather than numerous pieces of historiography. Nevertheless, for those hoping to receive higher grades in IB History, remember to be selective in what you choose to memorise and to evaluate the historiography in your essay!