Can history contribute to the development of the 21st century? 

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For many, history is a subject which teaches us about the past and holds little relevance for the present and the future. As historian, David Crabtree, points out:

We live in a time of rapid change, a time of progress. We prefer to define ourselves in terms of where we are going, not where we come from.

But this argument is flawed for a number of reasons and history can, in fact, help individual nations to further develop in the 21st century, in a number of ways.

First of all, the study of history promotes good citizenship. The historian, Peter Stearns, for example, argues that history provides the data which is essential in understanding how individuals and institutions can better interact and function in society. This is particularly useful in improving the treatment of minority groups because history enables us to see the harmful effects of issues like racism. If we understand the reasons which prompted race riots, like those at Birmingham in 1963 during the Civil Rights movement, we are better equipped to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.  

Secondly, history enables governments to prioritise the issues that matter. On the subject of healthcare, for example, using historical data enables governments to keep track of the particular diseases which plague society. By understanding these historic trends, governments can target resources to the diseases which affect society the most and can predict how disease patterns may change in the future. Again, by understanding the past, we can be better prepared for the future.