Why is History Important?


History is important because it allows us to study the past so that we can apply it to our society, our ideas and our way of life today.

By better understanding the past we prepare ourselves to better understand everything around us.  Society shapes us and we shape society.  Historian Spencer Crew explained that: “it is because historians interpret facts and influence how people see themselves and their place in history that it is important for a wide variety of people to enter the history field.[1]”  It is because history is so diverse and because it weighs so heavily on us that it is important to study how and why society came to be the way it is.  Historian David Brody makes the point that: “ever since the ancient Greeks, the study of history has played a special role in western civilization.[2]

From the days of Plato to the times of today, historical significance has played a large role in our ideas and has made us cognizant of our own roles within history.  Robert Blackey explains that: “being a historian and especially one that teaches, has helped me to enjoy life (both at home and when I travel) and to realize who I am.”  History is unique in that it gives us the ability to qualify all that we do with all that has been done before.

The most important function that history can serve is as a way to better understanding ourselves and our lives.  Peter Stearns observed that: “histories that tell the national story, emphasizing distinctive features of the national experience, are meant to drive home an understanding of national values and a commitment to national loyalty.[3]”  When President Obama asked in his Inaugural address that: “with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come[4]” he was referencing the plights that we have overcome in the past as a metaphor to lead us on to a new chapter in American history.

Ultimately what is most important, what makes history paramount to our very existence is that history gives us a unique sense of being.  Eric Foner said that: “we need a historical framework that eshews pronouncements about our own superiority and prompts greater self-consciousness among Americans and greater knowledge of those arrayed against us.[5]”  We cannot understand what surrounds us without first understanding what came before it and we cannot understand ourselves until we understand those who came before us.  When we seek to understand the past and its place within our society, within our ideas and our way of life, we strive for a greater understanding of the world around us and what our role within it can be.

[1] Spencer Crew.  “Why Become a Historian?” American Historical Society http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/why/CREW.HTM (accessed February 2, 2012.)

[2] David Brody.  “Why Become a Historian?”  American Historical Society http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/why/BRODY.HTM (accessed February 2, 2012.)

[3] Peter Stearns.  “Why Study History?”  American Historical Society http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm (accessed February 2, 2012.)

[4] President Barack Obama.  “Inaugural Address.”  http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Inauguration/story?id=6689022&page=1#.TysJq8WvjjY (accessed February 2, 2012.)

[5] Eric Foner.  “Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World.”  History News Network, George Mason University.  (accessed February 2, 2012.)

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