Illustration: Nathan Huang. From  Does it help to know history?  By Adam Gopnik: New Yorker August 28, 2014.

Illustration: Nathan Huang.
From Does it help to know history? By Adam Gopnik: New Yorker August 28, 2014.


Students work alone. Provide some plain paper and some bold writing utensils including a few colors. Without preamble or prior warning, students are allowed five minutes to do nothing less than "Draw History." Tell them that a constraint is that they must not use any words. If the momentum fades, invite students to produce alternative drafts that capture different aspects of the nature of history.

Next arrange students in pairs. Invite them to explain their drawings to each other and come up with further refinements to their drafts and alternative drafts. Again no words are allowed in the images. 

Finally ask students to produce a single finished legibly signed drawing. Collect the drawings. (They could be graded.)

Prepare a "greatest hits" slideshow selection of the most interesting images. Project images at the beginning of the next class asking students to defend and explicate their work.

The slideshow contains a selection of images from the class of 2017. For decades "Drawing History" has been a well established TOK activity around the world. It can be astonishingly generative. It is guaranteed to get students thinking out of the box and will provide a pool of reference points for meta-thinking about the nature of history. Over the decades student drawings from my own classes have included: an entropy-driven arrow of time, points of order and connectivity in a  sea of chaos; the "fall" from an original "golden dawn," a mostly blank page with a few timid scratchings, a series of great white men, an endless gyrating cycle of repetition, and a spiky graph of ascent and decline, with time on the horizontal axis.


This activity is all about a cubist approach to history; not the history of cubism. 

The three images in the carousel are all cubist portraits by Pablo Picasso. The model in all cases was his mistress Dora Maar. The first two were both painted in 1937. Portrait with the hat was rendered in 1941.

Start the activity by projecting the images, sharing the context, and asking the class what seems to be going on in these paintings? Allow the students to air their thoughts but resist the temptation to say too much at this stage. 

Cubist portrait recipe

  • Find a partner

  • On a single sheet of white paper draw a frontal and profile cartoon portrait of your partner at the same scale.

  • Cut out both images with scissors

  • Cut up each of the images into 8 contrasting geometric shapes

  • Rearrange the shapes to form a cubist-style, esthetically pleasing portrait

  • Glue; and take a photo


1. Acknowledging the contrivance, and stretching the point as far as you can, make a list of the aspects of the cubist approach to painting which have a resemblance to what historians actually do. 

2. To what extent is making a cubist painting like doing history 

P ablo Picasso (1937)   Guernica.  Oil on canvas. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.

Pablo Picasso (1937) Guernica. Oil on canvas. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.