The American philosopher George Santayana once stated that "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."
I was a history and English major as an undergraduate, and although I did my graduate work in English, history has remained important to me as a way to understand the present world. It is a learning tool—though I sometimes despair of American culture learning its lessons. But if we, as a culture, took it seriously, we would understand that much of what we face to day has already been faced in other times and places, and we would recognize that how other people in other times dealt with the same problems can be instructive to us. If we studied history—and then, this is key—took its conclusions to heart, we could truly build a better world in the present day.
History also means to me the opportunity to get into the "skin" of another period and imagine what it was like to live without all the conveniences we have and without our modern worldview. I never forget that the past, while filled in a broad way with universal lessons, is on a granular level anachronistic—meaning different from today. I feel I can learn much about what I take for granted by studying how other cultures once lived.