Why is History Important for Us

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Boring lectures, ancient stories, and rote memorization: for most students in school today, these words accurately describe their experience of history. History is the class in which students ask questions like, “How will this help me in life?” and “Why do I have to learn this?” Simply put, students would rather use their time on studies that seem to have more immediate and obvious results such as math or science. Based on the common opinion, history is viewed similarly to David from the Bible, something small, insignificant, and at surface value, irrelevant. However, also like David, history has many unseen strengths that make it a very impactful and useful study. Although history is often considered irrelevant in contemporary society, its ability to teach many important lessons and skills makes it one of the most beneficial areas of study. So why is history important for us?

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History, as defined by most, is the study of past events, particularly in human affairs. Nevertheless, this classic definition does not do just to ice the true purpose of history. Simply studying events that happened in the past without making meaningful connections does not lead to anything insightful; in fact, studying history in this way is truly purposeless, with no direction or reason for its existence. History genuinely begins to matter when it starts being applied to life itself. Whether people realize it or not, history is important because it defines their identity: who they are, from where they’ve come, and where they are going (Bryant et al.). Because history defines the background for all of humanity and everyone plays a part in history, it is therefore pertinent to all individuals. It can explain the why factor behind events like “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” (Stearns). History deals with the roots of topics and issues that would otherwise seem random and pointless because history explains the reasons behind them. History, when applied to life, is not just the study of the past, it is the answers to the why and the how of the present.

Arguably the best application of history is identifying patterns in history that could occur again in the future. For example, Genghis Khan and Hitler were both inspiring military leaders that focused on nationalism through military strength. Similarly, both committed atrocious crimes in their lifetime, killed large populations of people, and were very ruthless dictators of their respective regions. Such stark similarities between the two seem all too obvious now, but they also could have been recognized when Hitler was first rising to power before he became the modern Genghis Khan. By studying history, the Allies could have been able to see the correlations between the rulers and act before the situation became worse. But the Allies focused on their current predicament, the Great Depression, and ignored history, taking no action against Hitler until it was too late. Sadly, what came to pass in WWII, as the parallelisms of history could have foretold, was mass destruction and death by the Nazis just like the mass destruction and death by the Mongols. History reveals the patterns that occurred in the past and likely will occur again in the future. However, history’s predictions shouldn’t only be utilized in analyzing hindsight. For a current example, the Democratic Socialist Party recently proposed a Green New Deal, promoting Medicare for all, job guarantees, wealth distribution, and infrastructure reorganization. Similarly, Venezuelan leader Castro promised “health care for all” and “got it written into the Constitution, which stated: ‘Health is a fundamental social right, an obligation of the State’” (Lott). Castro and other socialist leaders such as Nehru, Lenin, and Mao all promised similar benefits under the socialist platform in their respective countries; nonetheless, all these countries later collapsed under socialist rule (Lott). As demonstrated above, there are many similarities between the ideologies of modern Democratic Socialists and socialist leaders of the past. Since similar historical trajectories often produce similar outcomes, history has already predicted the results. Using this strategy, informed people, if they choose to look back, can see what history proposes so that it doesn’t repeat itself. History shows the parallelisms and patterns of history that, if studied and applied, can have a great impact on the future of the world.

History has a great purpose in explaining the why and the how of the present and predicting recurring parallelisms of the past. However, there are general life skills that history can teach as well. Besides requiring memorization ability, history also develops analytical techniques because new evidence is constantly being discovered and compared with traditional claims. Bryant et al. summarize this by saying:

Yet such collective characterizations of ‘the past’ are never fixed; they change in content and priority, are often contested, and are the result of selectivity; some things must be recalled and remembered, others must be forgotten, erased, or ignored…

Because of the need for constant editing and revisions, history is unique in that those who study it must learn how to see through different perspectives and effectively analyze evidence. Additionally, history improves people’s ability to develop claims and reasoning. History teaches how to recognize factors that contributed to and caused changes and provides a context for understanding how those factors could have worked together to produce a certain change (Stearns). Using history, people learn how to piece together factors to create reasons for a relevant claim. In summary, history teaches how to analyze evidence, construct reasons, and support claims effectively, providing useful life skills that are well developed in those who study history.

In conclusion. While history, by definition, is focused on the past, it is also a very effective resource in the present. It sometimes seems small and irrelevant, like David, but has many important qualities such as its ability to explain the whys and the hows of the present and depict parallelisms from the past. Besides benefits, history also teaches those who study it valuable life skills that help in more ways than just simply studying the past. Like David, history has many strengths and hidden assets that are often overlooked at first. Unfortunately, many students fail to see history as more than a boring textbook with which they dutifully take notes they don’t want to remember. Knowledge about history should be pursued because of its great usefulness, but instead, textbooks and curricula often present history in a dull and irrelevant manner. The best way to help people appreciate the value of history is by taking it out of the textbook and making it more interactive. Rum Tan, the founder of Smile Tutor, argues that history needs to be interesting, relevant, engaging, comprehensible, and unique when it is taught. History can be, and is, so much more than an irrelevant topic everyone hates, and it all starts with people becoming informed through engaging learning. History, like David, may seem like it has little to offer, but, when given a closer look, provides valuable life skills and even has the power to transform the future. That’s why is history important to us.

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