Oxford Through 'TOK Lenses'

On Thursday 8th June, the IB cohort travelled to St Clare’s, Oxford, on a field trip designed to improve our critical thinking skills, as well as looking at the application of Theory of Knowledge (TOK) to 'real life situations' or examples.

The day started with a tour of some of the Oxford University buildings, such as the Clarendon Building and the Bodleian Library, with each structure referencing historical attitudes, values, knowledge and beliefs. For example, it was discussed that the neo-classical architecture of the Ashmolean Museum potentially reflects the attitudes towards authority which were specific to the time period during its construction.

Afterwards, we arrived at the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museums where we would complete our first activity. We were separated into TOK classes and tasked with answering questions about various areas of knowledge, which required the evaluation of several exhibits. Each group was also assigned a member of staff from St Clare’s.

When we regrouped to discuss our findings and challenge each other’s perspectives, we also discussed the relevance of the museum’s architecture and display arrangement. The façade of the building was an example of neo-gothic architecture and it was interesting to learn that the style was chosen as it was perceived as organic and therefore representative of the exhibits inside. In addition, this style seemed to extend into the building due to the engravings and statues present, which reflected the nature of many displays.

The Pitt Rivers Museum was also very interesting as artefacts were not necessarily arranged based on time period, but were rather organised by reoccurring concepts or themes. This meant that historical attitudes towards universal themes could be easily compared as societies were not presented in isolation but in acknowledgment of the complexities of history.

The activity was then followed by a lunch break, where students were able to explore Oxford further. The last activity of the day took place at the Ashmolean Museum and was similar to the previous exercise, but with the exception of individuals evaluating a different area of knowledge in a historical and cultural context. The activity also included students reflecting on the purpose of museums and how they developed from 'cabinets of curiosities' to monuments of human development.

Overall, the trip was extremely beneficial as it allowed students to critically examine TOK areas of knowledge in relation to real life events as well as viewing how each area is perceived uniquely by different global societies and their cultures.

Michelle De Bruin (SFC1)