For many people, history is a dry and dusty subject, a list of dates and pointless facts about long dead monarchs and half-forgotten battles, all of which might seem fairly irrelevant to the modern world. But to think of history that way is like saying that mathematics is just a bunch of numbers or language is all about remembering verb endings.
The importance of history is found in the fact that whilst it is about remembering what happened, it is also the key which opens the door to understanding why and how such things happened. How did one idea lead to another, one political action evoke a dramatic response, how did a king’s greed or short-sightedness spark a revolution and ultimately how all such seemingly unrelated incidents shape the world we find ourselves living in.
1. History helps us understand different cultures.
If there is one thing which seems to be reshaping the world at an unprecedented rate these days, it is an increasing lack of understanding of each other’s cultures and the only way that we can truly understand our fellow man is through understanding their path through history. For this, more than anything else, which shapes people’s world view; it defines their traditions and heritage, their faith and beliefs and everything about how they see themselves. Politics might tell you how heads of state wish their country to be seen but only history gives you an inside into the lives of everyday people.
2. History helps us understand ourselves
And if history is a window into the mindset of your neighbours, it is even more a window onto your own country and culture. Again it is the past which shaped us, forms our national identities, provides a nation with a cultural footprint and history shines a light on this and does so by drawing on politics, sociology, economics, anthropology and everything in between as well.
There is also a famous saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Understanding where we as a country, a community and an individual have made mistakes in the past allows us to avoid making them in the future.
3. History helps us develop important skills
And if History is important as a concept, it is doubly important as a subject to be studied. Firstly it develops reading and writing skills. It is an academic subject, one which requires the student to read across a number of sources, draw conclusions and combine those into written theories or essays. It is also a fluid subject, one built on interpretation of the facts as much as the facts themselves, which means there is plenty of room for the student to present the information in new ways, ask searching questions and perhaps offer new insights as to why history took the path that it did.
History takes in so much more than dates and events. It helps us understand change and makes us appreciate the points of view of other people who have perhaps travelled a very different historical path to ourselves. And more than that it is a repository for great stories, of heroic acts and unmitigated disasters, politics and battles, the rise and fall of empires, social reform and singular ideas which changed the world.
History boring? Nothing could be further from the truth.