I have recently been studying the history of the Papacy (for no particular reason, just because I'm interested), which is really a lot more than just the study of Church history. While I was walking tonight, I thought of the famous saying that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Whether or not you believe that, I thought it would be fun to discuss this question: What is the single most important thing you have learned from your study of history and why?
This post is making me think too hard, but here's my conclusion: One thing that history proves to us over and over is the power of perseverance. Whether we're looking at the foundations of America, the French Revolution, or even older time periods, one message is reinforced -- stick to your task if you want results. We never would have established a nation had not our forefathers persevered in battle, just as other nations never would have gained their independence had they not stood by their beliefs and fought for them time and time again. The same can be said of certain political candidates throughout history who ran and ran for office, meeting failure again and again until, one day, they were elected. Maybe that's the big picture history gives us -- Never, never quit.
There are two things I think we learn from history. The first comes from Hegel: "The only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history." I sometimes wonder how much we actually know about what actually "happened" in what we call history not to mention why we think it happened.
The other, somewhat sadder thing, is that it's all about power. Other claims may be made about philosophies, ideologies, whatever, but in the long run it seems to be about power. What I learn from that is that we must always be vigilant to protect ourselves from the encroachment of power from without and, perhaps more importantly, from within. The more we allow control to gather in someone's center, the more likely we are to lose our freedom should this center fall into the wrong hands.
Not an encouraging view, but it's what I've seen ....
Napoleon, whose first act after conquering an area was to control the newspapers, said, "What is history but a fable retold?" This veracity of this remark revealed itself to me as I began retaining American history texts when new ones were issued every six years at the school where I taught. For, after having collected three of these books, I noticed the difference in the interpretations of the Nixon years, for example, or of other presidents such as Carter and Reagan. In some cases, history was harsher to them, in some cases much kinder than I had remembered from the news and my own living. Perhaps Edward R. Murrow's worry that the new medium of television with its news/history could be manipulated so as to become propaganda has come to fruition. (Even "Time" magazine recently admitted to its overexposure and positive articles regarding one of the last presidental candidate as having affected the voting.)
Ms. Lepore's recounting of the remark by the South Koreans is very telling. Foreign exchange students at the school where I once taught always took an American history course and they were incensed by the "propaganda" they read about their countries, claiming their history books reported the truth and causes and events went much differently.
Nevertheless, history is intriguiing and history books, albeit flawed, are the carriers of civilization. Yet, as Mario Puzo wrote in The Sicilian, "...what is written on paper affects history. But not life. Life is a different history."
Love this topic since I'm such a history geek. I use that term lovingly...I know I speak to fellow "geeks" out there everywhere.
I think the most interesting aspect of history is that it is written by those in power. So, you can't believe everything you read. If you want to know the truth, you have to dig up all the documents you can find about that particular time period or event and read between the lines.
Curiouser and curiouser...when I was teaching English as a Foreign Language in South Korea, they refused to believe that the US came to help during the Korean War and actually blamed us for the division of the country and the DMZ. Talk about an eye-opener!
While this might sound a bit lame, I think the detonation of the two atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the more pivitol points in history, if for no other reason, it really makes us stop and look at the power we have militarily, as well as the long-lasting consequences that often outlive the current conflict.
Could anyone have predicted the amount of radiation poisoning that would affect so many people for generations? Could anyone have known the sheer power and destructive force that such a weapon could really possess? I think this event made everyone stop and think about the awesome power we have at our disposal, and forced us to take responsibility for the development of new and possibly dangerous technology. Perhaps this lesson was in the mind of those who started the major US/Russian disarmament programs.
Wow, this is great! I've been reading avidly and studying history since I learned to read (before kindergarten) and out of all of it, studying the ancient world, the middle ages, modern times, cultures all over the world and all that's gone on in my lifetime, I have learned one overiding lesson from both history and my own experience. Or actually, two things.
1. Hardly anyone thinks deeply about anything, and education or positions of leadership don't appear to help. Ninety-plus percent of disasters in history could have been avoided by any degree of forethought and common sense.
2. When someone does point out an obvious flaw in the plan of any major organization, military power, political group, etc., they will almost surely be ignored or ostracized by the others. Especially after they are proven right by the predicted disaster.
Sounds kind of bleak, doesn't it? But that's it. It doesn't mean that people cannot do better, and I can think of numerous examples from history where things have worked better. But the disasters certainly outnumber the successes in history by a wide, wide margin.
I read your topic an hour ago, timbrady, and found it an intriguing question that I really had to think about. Thanks! The most important lesson I have learned from studying history is that absolute political power truly does corrupt absolutely. Therefore, politically powerful people must be watched closely at all times so that their power does not become absolute in any way. I think this is an important lesson because it addresses human nature, not just a particular historical era. It is as old as ancient Rome and as current as today's news. When absolute power isn't checked (and balanced?), really bad things happen. Sometimes tragedy happens.
I have recently learned more about education the last few years, taking additional courses and giving several presentations. As a teacher, it is easyto be a role model for students because I think there are many outlets for continual learning and professional developmentmost after someone becomes a teacher, and to give advice about never quitting and always studying might be more beneficial if the teacher lives up to the standards of that they have for themselves.
Learning from history is an extension of the concept of learning from experience. History enables us to have understanding of experience of others in addition of that of our own.
A systematic study of history enables us to understand the pattern of causes and effect much better than is possible with our experience alone. Our experience provides us only a small sample of happening on which to base any such conclusions. Second and more important, history gives us the benefit of the insight and analysis of many thousands (or even more) experts who study, analyse and present historical information for our benefit.