The reason I am interested in history is because it has to do with figuring out WHY the world has come to be the way it is. It is like having a great mystery or a great puzzle that one is trying to solve.
I am also interested in thinking about how people in the past experienced their lives. Not necessarily in what conditions they faced (did they have running water, were they being bombed, etc) but in how those things made them feel.
When I teach history, students are most often interested by those lessons which ask them to think about why things happened, or how people would have responded to the way their lives were.
For example, a lesson that is always successful is one in which we discuss what slavery was like. Everyone starts with the assumption that slavery was completely horrible but they have never really thought this through. They've never really thought about the slaves as individuals with differences in personality and attitude.
In addition, they've never really thought about how much of a mystery this is. They've never thought about how we can say we KNOW how slaves felt. This is where history is a puzzle.
So history intrigues me (and I think that when my students are intrigued -- which is not always -- it is for much the same reasons) because it poses interesting intellectual challenges. It challenges us to use our logical abilities to try to figure out why things have happened the way they have. It also challenges us to use our ability to feel and to empathize with other human beings. It challenges us to use this ability to understand how people have dealt with their particular circumstances throughout history.
We study history because our interest has been piqued in learning from the events of the past. History shows us and helps us to examine these events in a structured way with a chronological format. This method has been cticized by some educationalists and historians who prefer a more 'organic' approach, and other learning experiments have been tried but still it is the method most used still in schools today.
To help us to understand the present, we can look back at past events and see how they led us to the situation we are in now. It would be hard for us to understand the current economic, social and political atmosphere if we couldn't refer back to the last century. The twentieth century generates a lot of interest because it had some momentous world events. For example many people have become in the history of how we got to this state with Iraq:
I think that the ability to interpret and understand historical trends and their relevancy to the present and future plays a large role in generating an interest in history. Students who are able to be exposed to how history is meaningful in terms of ideas and concepts being replayed out in the modern setting might be able to find a level of interest in the discipline because it allows them to be able to "crack the code" as to how things progress in the modern setting. Things rarely "just happen," and if it can be taught to students that there are several undercurrents in the historical traditions of nations that allow events to transpire, there is a certain level of intellectual empowerment that hits students, allowing them to feel more in control about being able to articulate reality in relation to a historical narrative.