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The importance of studying history

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Studying history is important because it helps us understand past societies, cultures, and events, which in turn allows us to better comprehend the present and make informed decisions for the future. It also fosters critical thinking, empathy, and an appreciation for the complexities of human experience.

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Why should we study history?

We study history so we know what influences shaped our world. Sometimes we do not know why things are the way they are. Studying history helps us to see the root causes and understand why things are the way they are. This can help us make decisions.
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Why should we study history?

History reveals who we are in relation to others and how we got where we are today.  I'd like to say we can look back and thereby avoid the pitfalls and tragedies ahead of us; however, we're fairly slow learners and often need to experience the pain for ourselves in order to learn the lesson.  Given that, then, studying history--even slanted or distorted history--serves to show us where we've been and how we got where we are.

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Napoleon said that history is but a fable retold.  It would seem that often history is rewritten to fit the ideologies of those in power.  Nevertheless, there is a necessity if not for myth, at least to have some idea of the past so we can understand just how futile attempts to have humanity progress are.  After all, history is so often repeated, is it not?  At least when one reads American history, for instance, he/she can perhaps understand what it is that we are in fear of losing.  To be uninformed is, indeed, dangerous.

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I would agree that we study history in order to learn about the past and to learn from the past. By studying history hopefully nations can prevent making the same mistakes over and over.

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The study of History answers the question of why we are where we are. To comprehend  current activities in the world, it's imperative to comprehend what occurred in the past.  That vantage will lead not quite to prescience, but may facilitate an understanding of causes and consequences that may help with making beneficial decisions for the future.

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In my opinion, the major reason for studying history is to have a connection to the other people in your country.  At least, this is the only reason that I think that history should be required in schools.

In order to have a society that holds together, we need to have things that we hold in common.  We need to have a common culture that binds us.  In the US today, we do not have a common religion or a common ethnic heritage.  What we do have in common is the history of the country and our knowledge of it.  When we all know what our country has stood for and been about over the years, we are able to feel that we are a part of whole and that the other parts of the whole are like us in some important way.

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Why should we study history?

There are many reasons to study history, just as there are to study any discipline.  The advancement of knowledge and understanding for its own intrinsically merit might be one reason.  History is a compendium of understanding that might have no other reason but an intrinsically compelling reason to study.  This makes history unique in that there might not be some external benefits to the discipline's study, but rather simply cause individuals to know more.  From an external point of view, there is a line of logic that argues that history repeats or patterns can emerge.  In studying history, we, as learners, better understand these sequences and can better grasp such unfolding.  Another reason might be to reconnect with out past.  In studying history, we accept that we are a part of something larger than ourselves and in this, we better understand our own sense of identity.  If I live in the temporal present only, I might believe that no one else endured what I do.  Yet, in studying history, I am able to understand how my predicament is similar to someone else's who came prior to me.  I might also be able to examine what they did and assess if this is a path that I want to take or something I wish to avoid.  in the end, I think that the study of history is one where individuals are able to connect themselves to something larger than merely subjective consciousness.

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Learning about history provides us with two kinds of lessons, helping us to understand what has worked and what has not worked in the past, which is vital in decision-making about the present and the future.  Furthermore, what and who we are, as individuals, families, communities, regions, and countries, is the sum total of our history.  

One example of this is studying the aftermath of World War I. When Germany lost that war, the Allied powers imposed a peace upon Germany that took away some of its land, decimated its military power, and plunged it into economic distress with their demand for excessive reparations.  The consequence of that "peace" was World War II. 

On the other hand, after World War II, while we did occupy Japan, we rehabilitated the country, providing experts and money to set Japan on a better path to a capitalistic democracy.  To this day, Japan is a strong ally to the United States.

The World War I example, with its dreadful consequences, served as a history lesson for the United States after World War II, such that, rather than rubbing a country's nose in its defeat, the United States aided the country to rise again in a more constructive, productive, and peaceful way.  If we did not learn history, all of us, we would be very likely to repeat mistakes over and over again. 

And we are our history, which means that if we don't know our history, we are not fully realized human beings.  You see, history is not just the Battle of Hastings or Attila the Hun. History comprises everyday people and events, as well.  Your ancestors are part of history.  Your culture and religion are part of history.  You are part of history and the sum total of what went before. If you don't learn this history, on some level, you are like a foundling left on someone's doorstep, not knowing where you are from and consequently, not knowing where you are going. 

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Why should we study history?

There are many different reasons to study history.  The first reason is that we study our past to learn more about our future.  While each situation in history in unique, by studying the past we can learn more about why an event happened.  Leaders can learn lessons from history—after the Great Depression, government became more active in managing the economy.  This is an example of learning from history.  There was also some news censorship in the early days of the Iraq War after the extensive news coverage of the Vietnam conflict made the war unpopular with the American people—this is another example of a lesson taken from history.  

History can also provide inspiration.  One can look at leaders and emulate some of their characteristics.  National histories can also inspire a people in times of trouble and provide a source of nationalistic pride.  

Finally, the study of history can allow the growth of one's writing and analytical skills.  Historians often write a great deal and they are mindful of their audience.  Historians also look for reason why events happened.  Historians gather evidence and form conclusions; no matter what someone does in life, this is a valuable skill.  

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Why is studying history important?

In Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, one of the students refers to the line, attributed to Arnold Toynbee, that history is "just one damn thing after another." This idea encapsulates the worst aspect of traditional history-teaching, in which students memorized lists of battles and the names of great men. This type of history really was simply a dry, dull list of things that had happened in chronological order.

To study history, rather than merely to memorize lists of battles, however, is to look into the causes of and relationships between important events. Historians do not merely record what took place, but try to work out why. This is why the study of history includes historiography and philosophical theories of history. It also includes epistemology. Historians weigh different types of evidence in a forensic manner, trying to establish which accounts are reliable and corroborated.

The study of history, therefore, is important both because it helps students to understand the past, and therefore the present, and because it teaches vital skills for discovering the truth. In addition to these points, history is an inevitable part of every other academic discipline. Scientists study the history of science, literary scholars study the history of literature. An in-depth understanding of any subject requires the study of history.

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Why is studying history important?

Perhaps philosopher George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Learning about history enables us to understand what caused the major conflicts of the past. Armed with this knowledge, we have a better chance of preventing such conflicts from happening again.

One only has to look at a list of influential people today who studied history to get an idea of the heights to which you can be propelled with a thorough knowledge of history. Joe Biden was a history major, as was Martha Stewart, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, and esteemed novelist Salman Rushdie.

Studying history also gives us an appreciation of the freedoms that we enjoy today in many parts of the world. Looking at the struggles undertaken for freedom in various parts of the world—take Apartheid South Africa as an example—can provide serious appreciation for the freedoms many of us enjoy today.

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Why is studying history important?

The study of history is important because it allows one to make more sense of the current world. One can look at past economic and cultural trends and be able to offer reasonable predictions of what will happen next in today's world. One can also understand why some rules exist in the modern world. For example, one can understand the importance of the social welfare programs if one looks at the Great Depression and New Deal. We can also look back on the Civil Rights movement and see why the United States puts so much effort into creating a system where everyone is equal before the law and has equal access to public amenities. History also allows us to see how the United States gradually created the Constitution after it had just fought a war against a central government that did not care for colonial interests. Without a background in history, one does not appreciate why the Constitution was revolutionary for its time. More broadly, history enables us to understand different cultures.

If those are not good reasons for studying history, one can study history because it allows one to exercise their critical thinking skills. These critical thinking skills are important for all areas in life, academic and otherwise. Historians also write a great deal; a study of history allows one to practice writing for different audiences.

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Why is studying history important?

The main reason to study history is so that you find out all of the facts for yourself. If you don't study history, you won't know when someone is misleading you. People always have their own version of the facts. It's important that you know for yourself.
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Why is studying history important?

It is important to study history so one may learn about past human behavior that is relevant to the intellectual growth and development of an individual. Studying the events of the past gives us an understanding of how the world came to be, not only in your world but around the world, including all human cultures and nature itself. By learning about the causes and effects of events in history, people can learn better ways to deal with conflict among nations and individuals. Studying the history of environmental changes can inspire a healthier lifestyle for mankind, as well as prevent the extinction of plants and animals, which could disturb our ecosystems. Although human behavior is unpredictable at times, a better understanding through the study of history can provide valuable insight for our future generations.

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Why is studying history important?

I believe the single most important reason to study history is that history teaches us to think. Whether it is American, European, military, art, ancient, modern, religious, or archaeological (and so on), history enables us to contemplate the experiences that came before us. It is true that history is the record of our past; however, I think history is more than time and place. History allows us to think about the greatest question humanity has ever asked: Why...? Finish the question any way you want. Studying history allows humanity to look at its own reflection. We can embrace the reflection (good and bad) and be stronger for it, or we can turn away from our reflection, denying we ever existed at all. Which perspective do you think humanity has a better chance of survival with?

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Why is studying history important?

The “importance" of anything is dependent on the circumstance – the “importance” of sugar depends on whether you are baking cookies or Zweiback; the “importance” of auto brakes depends on whether you are stopping or parked, etc.  So the “importance" of history is that the events of the past, large and small, have formed the present.  In order to use the present to shape the future (as far as we are capable of influencing the shape of the future), we need to see the forms, the structure, the actions that are universal in human nature and in the laws of physics/mathematics, and that are available to us to give a favorable substance to the future.  Studying history brings those forms and actions to our awareness, and they can then act as tools to give the future its shape.  For example, Athenian democracy and its actions that caused the Athenians to survive the Persian attacks serve as examples and models for subsequent democracy experiments, such as in the United States and in France.  Communism in Russia served to give shape to Communism in China.  The studying of history does not confine itself to memorizing dates, but to discerning patterns, following the logical consequences of actions, and weighing the elements of past events -- Leaders? Geography?  Technology? etc. – to predict, or at least influence, future outcomes.  Studying wars, for example, may not be as important as studying the failure of Peace Treaties.  What happened to the League of Nations, for example, and how can the United Nations avoid a similar fate?  If the colonies could form the United States, and Europe could form the European Union, what forces would bring the South American nations together?  Studying history, the past, is the act of learning how to deal with the present to shape a desirable Future.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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. 

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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?

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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.

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Why is it important for students to study history, regardless of its immediate relevance to their life or career choice?

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. 

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