What is historical background knowledge?

Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
© History Skills

While studying the past, you will encounter a wide range of words, names, people, places and dates.


Some of these may seem familiar to you, or some you may never have heard of before. Either way, it is important to find out what they mean.


Before you can develop the more complex historical skills, you should attain familiarity with new information.


The simplest way to do this is to focus on one individual and event, and answer questions that start with the following words:


Enquiry word: Explanation:
Who? Helps you learn the individuals and groups involved, especially those who were most significant
What? Helps you learn the key events, and can help you assess the causes and consequences or change and continuity
When? Helps you learn the important dates, as well as help you form a useful chronology
Where?  Helps you learn the important locations, especially those that were most significant

Only once you are comfortable with these details can you begin to answer the more difficult knowledge questions, which usually start with the following words: 


Enquiry word: Explanation:
Why? Helps you assess the causes and consequences or motives
How? Helps you assess causes and consequences or change and continuity

Useful websites for background knowledge

There are a wide range of websites that can help you develop your background knowledge. If you're unsure where to start look for answers to your questions, the following websites can be of use:


The free online encyclopaedia

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Ancient History Encyclopedia is a non-profit educational website with a global vision: to provide the best ancient history information on the internet for free.

History on the Net

A website which aims to provide historical information that is easy for both children and adults to navigate, is written in accessible language, is illustrated wherever possible and makes learning fun.

History Channel

Although this is a television channel, it does have lots of short articles and videos to help improve your background knowledge.

Looking for a worksheet to record your background research?

Background Research Worksheet
Ready-to-use digital worksheet for background research on any topic. It has blank tables with question prompts to aid successful completion.