Why is history useful?Why is history useful?

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larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The two citations below are excellent essays on the importance of studying--and understanding--history. I require my AP students to read both essays as a summer reading assignment and to write their own essay on the topic.

Too often the reason cited for knowing history is Santayana's famous quote; however it must be more than simply avoiding the mistakes of the past. History not only explains the fallible issues of the past; but also how cultures have developed and the reasons for their development I often tell my students that my thesis for the entire course is Newton's second law: for every action there is an equal opposite reaction. If one is to understand the present, one should also understand the events which brought us to that point. No historical event occurs in a vacuum, although sadly many people teach it that way. The quote below by Peter Stearns, cited below, makes the point admirably:

The past causes the present, and so the future. Any time we try to know why something happened—whether a shift in political party dominance in the American Congress, a major change in the teenage suicide rate, or a war in the Balkans or the Middle East—we have to look for factors that took shape earlier. Sometimes fairly recent history will suffice to explain a major development, but often we need to look further back to identify the causes of change. Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.

Sadly, history is too often taught as rote memorization with no understanding. Almost every other discipline emphasizes that discipline's practical application. No one asks why one should learn photosynthesis or the pythagorean theorem. History is equally applicable to the present and should be taught--and understood--in that fashion.

 

 

 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I always start the history courses I teach by asking this question.

In practical terms, studying history is not necessarily useful for our everyday lives.  We can get good jobs and have happy families without knowing our history.

History is more important if we are going to be good citizens of our society and if that society is going to be cohesive.  Especially in the US (where we have no common ethnic heritage), it is important for us to know something about our history so we have a sense of what makes us all American.  We have to know what values form the basis of our country and our shared "Americanness."

In order to be good citizens of the US, a knoweldge of history is helpful.  Knowing history helps us to have opinions about what government should and should not do.  It helps us to be able to think about government actions (war in Iraq or Afghanistan, for example) and try to determine for ourselves whether these are good ideas given our past history.

In ways like this, history is important not for economic reasons but for making us better able to be active parts of a strong society.

tehni's profile pic

tehni | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

history is very useful as it tells us about our past the battles faced by our ancestors the struggle for freedom of india from britishers the division of may states the way of ruling the establishment of various religions like islam jainism buddism etc and many more things about our countries past and even of other countries

loveslife59's profile pic

loveslife59 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

In the same way that we make mistakes and then do not want to repeat them in our present and on into our future, our city, state, country, world has made mistakes and they do not need to be repeated again.  We only know about those mistakes or even successful events by studying history.

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