Why should students study history?I feel as though some students don't take the initiative to study a subject (e.g. history) unless they're given insight into why this topic is important to...

Why should students study history?

I feel as though some students don't take the initiative to study a subject (e.g. history) unless they're given insight into why this topic is important to learn/understand. In some cases, a number of students won't make the effort to study the subject matter if it isn't perceived to be applicable to their life or career choice. My question is, what incentives are offered to those who study history or, put in other words, why is it important for students to learn history (whether in or outside of school)?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Knowledge of the past is essential to proper evaluation of the present and the future.  History is not just dates and battles.  It entails the development of a people and their culture. From its prime to today, America has become the nation that it is because of the steps of our ancestors.  The America that hopefully is loved by most of its citizens should be appreciated.  We are the greatest nation; consequently, we should understand how that happened in such a short time. 

Everyone who is an American has an interconnectedness.  We are linked through our past.  History affords evidential information about people's behavior, societies proclivities, and possibilities for the future. 

Further, history affords the knowledge to assist in change.  When a negative development comes along, in order, to fully institute understanding, one must look back at how and why the change happened.  For example, as far as 9/11 terrorist attacks, history provided knowledge concerning why the US was attacked, who were the terrorists, and what events led to the tragedy.  Columbine, muliple suicides, technological changes--scientist, behavorists, economist, psychologists all use history to determine where to go next in solving or helping to improve these problems.

"History teaching by example" is one phrase that describes this study of the past—a study not only of certifiable heroes, the great men and women of history who successfully worked through moral dilemmas, but also of more ordinary people who provide lessons in courage, perseverance, or constructive protest.  The settlers who traveled west, the first brave astronauts, the explorers, the civil rights workers--these people can teach myriad lessons of courage, fortitude, and values. 

Patriotism springs from history.  Every person who sings "The Star Spangled Banner" should know the story behind the poem and know what inspired Francis Scott Key to write it. All Americans should hear the humorous story of Benjamin Franklin promoting the turkey as the national bird. These are the anecdotes of our country.  Should we not know everything possible about the greatest nation on earth?

Robert Penn Warren, a poet laureate stated:

History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.

Today's generations like to take short cuts. There are some aspects of society that require attention.  Studying history is one of those long term projects for all Americans. 

Further Reading:
rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These posts raise a number of excellent points, and I am almost completely in agreement with each of them. I would add a couple more, however. First, as Sam Wineburg and others have claimed, history offers the chance of "humanizing us" more than any other subject in the curriculum. This is because doing history (as opposed to the passive act of learning about things that happened in the past) requires us to engage in the "unnatural act" of empathizing with people whose worldviews were very different than our own. I would argue that this is actually the most important benefit that history offers students--the imperative of trying to see things as others saw them. In other words, "tying the present to the past" (Wineburg's words) which are implicit in some of the responses on this thread is not only useful inasmuch as it helps us avoid the mistakes of the past. It also helps us develop as critical thinkers, able to empathize with very different points of view, to come to terms with our own inherent subjectivity, and to, acknowledging all the complexities I've mentioned in this post, still form a clear, coherent argument or opinion.

Besides the work of Wineburg, particularly Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, which I highly recommend to any history teacher, there is also the famous speech given by historian Peter Stearns when he was president of the American Historical Association entitled "Why Study History?" Stearns makes too many arguments to mention here, but it is an ideal reading for Day One of a upper level high school or college class. I have linked to both of them below, along with a discussion about the development of history as a scholarly discipline that shows how its uses have changed over time. It should also noted that surveys of business leaders repeatedly show that the types of critical thinking skills, as well as writing skills, that are indisputably part of studying history, are highly desirable in the workplace.

Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students should study history to gain a better understanding of current world conditions. Decisions, policies, actions, wars, ventures, and initiatives of the past have contributed to the way the world is today. Therefore, one must know and understand history to know and understand the present state of affairs in politics, culture, societies, and more.

Studying history is vital to a better understanding of today's economic conditions, business climates, national and regional wars and disputes, and environmentalism. Knowledge of history is also vital to a better understanding of different cultures, political movements, uprisings, technological advancements, current ideologies, and such.

Studying history and grasping the essence and truth (not misinformation) of historical events helps individuals, as well as groups, governments, businesses and political parties make informed decisions to further their different agendas.

For example, an understanding of the history of nations involved in the Arab Spring, assists one in understanding what led to the tumult and transference of power in those nations (for example Egypt). An understanding of the history of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party assist one in understanding the current political climate in the United States, with the rise of the Tea Party, as well as the rise of President Obama as the first black President.

History is a teacher that influences present decisions. These decisions are in turn what those in the future will look back on as history, which helps them understand their society better.

Further Reading:
Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main reason people should study history is to better understand themselves and their own situation in the world.  I continually told my students that the questions they needed to ask themselves about history is "So What? and Who Cares?".  We should study things that give us an understanding of our society and our beliefs. 

For example, there are thousands of ancient civilizations.  Why should we study any of them?  They have been gone for thousands of years.  I took the time to teach my students ancient civilizations that have had an impact on our culture, government, or lifestyles today.  Studying the ancient Greece showed my students the impact that society had on the government and culture of our country; therefore, it was a valid study into their own lives and not some random force of history.

Building personal relevance is the most important part of history, and the hardest job of the educator.  If it is done correctly, it will have a profound impact on the learning of your students.


bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have been asked this question many times over the years by students who (mostly) hate the thought of studying history. I usually respond with the often misquoted statement by philosopher George Santayana:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..." (Wikipedia)

(It is more often incorrectly paraphrased as "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.") In any case, the study of past history serves to remind people living in the present of the mistakes and accomplishments of men and women who came before us. A study of history should reveal, for example, the atrocities of Hitler and why they should not be repeated; how the wisdom, honesty and persistence of Abraham Lincoln are virtues found in few of our more recent leaders; or, even the repercussions of Adam and Eve's taste of the forbidden fruit. Hopefully, students of history will be able to distinguish the good and bad, right and wrong, and successful and unsuccessful aspects of past events and learn from them. 

Further Reading:
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I majored in English in high school and college and read most of the great English and American writers as well as some great foreign writers in translation. I always disliked history and quickly forgot what little I learned. It took me many years to realize why I disliked history. It was because most historians are dull, boring writers. If I hadn't acquired a taste for good writing from being an English major, I might not have found most history books so distasteful that they made history seem like a musty, moldy, tedious subject. In recent years I have discovered that I can enjoy history if I watch documentaries on DVDs. I have watched many hours of programming about American history, British history, Roman history, Greek history, and other historical documentaries and docu-dramas. It seems to me that this is the way to teach history to students who can't stand history books and especially those horrible history textbooks.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would echo everyone above. So much depends on what has gone before so that we don't repeat the bad and we can learn from the past before suffering again. We can also learn about what has worked in the past to help solve similar problems now. For example, lawyers look to past rulings to help with current/similar cases as a guide. Judges look at precedence, too, so they are able to determine where past judgments have come from. Then, if there are still any remaining prejudices, those can be overtuned or changed. We can also understand why we think the way we do because of history and change as needed to improve our society. The history classes themselves generally focus on the cause and effect consequences of actions and students can learn from that way of thinking in their own lives; well, all of us can.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous posters, but sometimes a teacher needs to work harder to help students make the personal connections for why we study history. For example, why would we study seminal U.S. documents in history and English? These documents have helped provide our current way of life. Looking at how people through history solve problems or take stands against injustice could be connected to the very real problems that students face in everyday life. Studying history also makes students more cognizant of the lies, the manipulations, and the propaganda that is sometimes used to misrepresent or distort the truth. A resource that they can browse such as the eNotes link that follows might be a great way of capturing their interest.

Further Reading:
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I start every one of my history courses with this question.  I know that this field is less clearly relevant to life than many others.  I therefore try to acknowledge those issues right up front.

In answering that, I do bring up the points that others have raised here.  However, I also talk about the need for cultural literacy.  I talk about the need to understand the historical allusions that give us a shared sense of the past.  I talk about how our country is not built on any long-standing geographical location or on any one ethnicity.  Therefore, we need to understand our shared past to give us a better chance to feel connected to one another today.

Further Reading:
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think sometimes people don't realize that something has been tried before.  If we don't study history, we are doomed to repeat it because we are too gullible.  We will believe what we are told, because we don't know any better.  Consider the stock market failure that led to the Great Depression.  Everyone was getting greedy and more and more people were taking greater risks. Sound familiar?

Further Reading:
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The trouble with studying history is that we forget almost everything--unless we are history majors or have photographic memories. I studied history in elementary school, in high school, and in college, and I believe I have forgotten about ninety-nine percent of what I supposedly learned. I doubt if I'm much different from the average person.

patdobbsedd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The study of history is essential to understanding how we arrived at our current status as a nation. The study of history is our roadmap that leads to a destination if we read it carefully.

crystaltu001 | Student

Student should study history in school because it is important for them to know how the world is like this now. We need to learn what had happened in the past and how people lived if the world wasn't how it is today. We should be able to know our country's past and the past of other places.

wifii213 | Student

It gives us an idea on how everything has become today. We learn from our past and of course we understand more on our place in the world. Maybe someday the way we live will change forever because of history itself, but it already happened a lot of times already and more changes will happen.

adibuddyboy | Student

The experts have put forth a number of brilliant points above!

Being a student myself this question would be on my mind through every history lecture!!

However the day I asked my teacher this question, she answered it in the most wonderful manner in just one line!!

She said "to know where you are going you need to know where you are coming from"

And that Cleared all my doubt right there

kingfuzz | Student

we study history to learn about previous mistakes. So by learnig about them we won't make the same mistake again.


isabelladawn | Student

To know about past life nad what happened when you wasnt ene thought of yet!

tweety147852369 | Student

I think students should study history so the same mistake want be repeated and it makes better people.

tmcabee | Student

I think it is important to continually study history.  The amount you can learn not only about yourself but us as a society is remarkable.  The most interesting fact about history to me is one point in history can be seen some many different ways by so many different people.  For example, my mother-in-law and I were in a debate about how life was in the 1950s.  Now she was born in 1950 but what she says about growing up between 1-10yo, in New York, in the 1950s is completely opposite to what I have read and studied about the 1950s way of life.  I even had her watch a documentery called "Seeds of the 60s" which is all about the way of life in the 1950s and she said that all the historians were wrong and that life was nothing like that for her and her family.  This is where I think history is most important.  If you only take your personal accounts it to consideration and never revisit that moment in history and try to look at it with impartial eyes, the history you remember can be completely false.  I hope what I said makes sense, sometimes I have what I want to say in my head but can't find the right words to say it in writing.

abhisiktakumar | Student

i completely believe that,students are made to study history to let them know about the hardships that our forefathers and the upgrowing men had undergone to bring the present society as we see the civilised one.Basically it enriches us with vivid knowlege of the unknown.Actually,history is nothing but the accurate answers for what we are seeing,what we are experiencing now.Every old artifact and every old process which we use by modifying today,have been started from the past.In whole,my conclusion that,if students are not aware of this knowledge,they lack a serious portion of their curriculum.

mirmirnotez | Student

Students should study history so they (we) can learn about the past , and look back and appreciate life now. :)

pinkykitty | Student

without history you would have no sense of the real world

people make references to the past all the time

naldskee27 | Student

students should study history simply because in order for them to be updated with the past events and stories happened within their place, country, or to the people they don's know yet that has indeed created a legacy or has a traumtic impact made among people's lives. And History usually talks about the things that usually happened in the whole world that has indeed a great reflection of the life we live today. People studying history may get bored in it, but learning its essence and importance in our lives is usually self-fulfilling because we are grabbing the opportunity to share knowledge with the other people or the next generation.

we should learn history to learn about the past and to not make this same mistakes such as the holocaust. We learn about things that we dont want to repeat

grassycreek | Student

To learn how to not repeat history!

liam32 | Student

My opinion about your question is,

The history is a significant subject throughout the world, and I think the person or the student who doesn't know about his history then he is useless in his life because unknown of your history make you as a lost in the life..! . 

And Lets ask you more logical question, why shouldn't students study their history or the history generally ? 

donnamaria | Student

Personally, I really don't like history in my school and I always used to think that it's pointless to study history as it was the past and it would never help me. But history is important as it helps us to not repeat the same mistakes that older generations have made. Now, many of the mistakes that caused war are continously being repeated again and again. People should learn not to repeat the same mistakes and that is why we study history.

plshelpme | Student

tbh I don't think History is that important. I think you do not really need it, unless you wish to do something with it in the future.

If you think that History is not important, then you are wrong.

History, is a beneficial subject. Not only does it tell you what happened before you were born, it also shows why our world is as we see it.

it can also be used to prove people wrong.

for example:

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ”

-Michael Crichton



mailtogaurav | Student

students often find it difficult to connect with their past  . but we should  also not forget films based on historical events are highly appreciated by  everyone . history is not just our past but it is something real classic and glorious . its a matter a pride for very of us . if studied with correct approach its the most intresting subject also .

                      it is always said we learn from our mistakes and history gives us chance . it makes us practical . it gives us immense experience and that too without turning our  hair white . history increases our reasons and also devlops a quality to search . different opinions are the best exaple of diversity in any subject . we will know our country well with help of history only .



hadjartahax | Student

tbh I don't think History is that important. I think you do not really need it, unless you wish to do something with it in the future.

sweetskittles24 | Student

Because students are vulnerable individuals in the society, they are prone to making mistakes. History teaches everyone (especially students) to look over the mistakes that have been made by others in history.

samuelirenoa | Student

to understand the nature of our environment. how it originated, able to sustain and it present situation

blondemogirl | Student

to learn about the past in order to not repeat it in the future. without learning about history, we as a people are damned

hmshah98knic | Student

Students should study history so the dont commit mistakes that were commited in the past as history is the study of the past ot change the future.

ryanthegreat | Student

Students should study history for many reasons. For one, history gives us the learning ability to know exactly how we, as a people, came to be here today. Why and how exactly we came to learn and grow fundamentally, religiously, economically, politically, expansively, etc. History, I believe, is the basis for all other courses. For historians are the ones who record and chart down the famous people who created the things that we adapt and use today. Science is science, but how would we remember that Marie Curie was a pioneer of radioactivity if we didn't chart it down, or anyone for that matter? Or better yet, how would writings from old classical era ages be remembered to this day if someone wasn't  telling them constantly and then writing them down for the ages to know.

History also reminds us that things like revolutions are not events, so much they are processes. Processes that take hundreds to even thousands of years to fully develop and shape the world of today (examples of which are the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution).

History is what has shaped us as a civilization, nay, as a mass community all over the world to understand what has happened in the past and to stay away from  the bad or move on with the good. There is one quote that I have read that all ways makes me realize how important it is to study history:

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

- George Santayana

astrosonuthird | Student

Students should study history to pass their exams.



Am I correct friends!!

suzannah304 | Student

History is the main source of knowledge. If we donot know history then we lack behind in every aspects. After all we should know about the sources, don't we?

astrosonuthird | Student


zayda45 | Student

The history of our country should be study because,it is good to know about our country's past.


jane-student | Student

To learn from past mistakes. 

astrosonuthird | Student

It is mandatory for a student to learn History.

getloose | Student


amaniabd | Student

it is very important to know about our grands gloory , way of life and experiences

astrosonuthird | Student


History is very importnat to know because if we don't know history it will be a shame.

For instance, if a person wants to become an astronaut, he or she has to know the history of an astronaut. Or else you will be thrown out of your job of astronaut.

shrawandip | Student

"Anyone who do not study History should repeat it"    - popular poverb

astrosonuthird | Student
History of science is also required for the humans.
plshelpme | Student

Those who do not know History, do not know themselves, and therefore remain as children forever.

asimradhrani | Student

students should learn history to know how there ancestors have worked hard and their achievments.

rahulsk | Student

History is history we are living because of them if they hadn't changed air alerted anything we would be sitting idle in our homes. We would not have light etc if not the people listed in history.

luiji | Student

Learning about your countries history give you pride and patriotism for your country.

lollapalooza | Student

or dey wil get kulled bi da boojy man

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