“Not to know what took place before you were born, is to forever remain a child.”
I have always enjoyed history. I have often wondered why history is not a very popular subject among most people today. I think it has a great deal to do with the way people view history. History is generally deemed as irrelevant and not meaningful for today. Henry Ford reportedly said, “History is bunk.” and when asked to define history Ambrose Bierce said, “An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, most of which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” I am afraid this is probably the kind of definition that most people would come up with if they sat down and thought about how to represent their thought on the topic. And though I am somewhat abashed to admit it, there is a lot of truth to what is being said. However there is also a lot being left out.
So why do I think history is so important? I feel that I must clarify before continuing. Just in case you hadn’t thought about it, it is always helpful to realize that history does not end an a rolling time frame 100 years before the current year. It does not even end the moment you were born. What you just read is now history. (And so is that) So, once again, why is history so important? It gives people identity. Try to describe why you are who you are today without history. If you find that you can do it, please let me know. Post a comment or something because I have yet to think of a way in which to describe why I am the way I am without going back in history. You are not just who you are. You are the product of a very specific sequence of events. Why are you one nationality and not another? Why do you speak the language you do and not another? Why do you live where you live? Why is your hair brown? (Or blond or black or rainbow for that matter.) Is it not because of what happened in the past? Without history we would not know who we are, or why we are the way we are.
At this point many of you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute. Nobody believes that their own past isn’t important to them. What we don’t see as relevant is the really old stuff. I mean how could feudalism in the middle ages possibly affect my life today?” (Just an example) It is a fair question. I still think however that the principle I have already propounded holds true. In fact I find it even more interesting. Now it is a puzzle. How did feudalism affect who we are today? I believe that if we look hard enough at most things we can find the deep ramifications of what happens in history and how it has brought us to where we are today.
Another reason why history is so important is that it affects the future. Obviously, if something happened in the past than the future would be different than if that had not happened. If I had not started a blog in the past than I would not be typing this right now. Consequently, if we do not understand the past we will have a harder time understanding what is going on. For example, if we did not know that a health care reform bill was passed in he United States than we would not understand why there are Supreme Court hearings going on right now about the constitutionality of such a piece of legislation. Or better yet, if we didn’t know that in 1787 the United States Constitution was ratified, we would not understand what the people are talking about when they say they are suing the government for passing a law that is unconstitutional. (Or that they argue is such.) The past is not only the key to understanding the present, but it is also the key to the future. Rupert Brooke said, “History repeats itself, historians repeat each other.” If we know what has happened in the past than we can see where certain actions often lead to, both good and bad. With a proper understanding of the past we can change the future, or predict the future and prepare for it.
Finally, and most importantly history affects the way we view the world. Why do you understand what you are reading right now? Or more specifically, why is the letter “A” the letter “A” and not “Q”? When it comes down to it, “A” is “A” because in history someone decided that the symbol “A” was “A” and not “Q”. You understand what you are reading because when you were a small child, you were taught that “A” was “A”. Now, draw that principal out. What if, when you were small, you and all the other children in school were taught that the earth was flat. Would you not believe the earth was flat? It is hard to think in that way because we know the earth is not flat, but consider the implications. If no one you knew believed the earth was round, and you had no way of finding out the earth was in fact round, and you had been told since you were very small that the earth was flat, you would respond to the earth as if it were flat. But we have in the past had people who have discovered and proved that the earth is round and so now we respond to the earth as it is; round. What I am trying to say is, the way we understand the past affects the way we live. If you do not have a correct understanding of the past you will have an incorrect view of the world in the present.
In conclusion, I am not trying to say that everyone should just love studying history. I am merely trying to point out that history is much more important than our culture has taught us to believe it is. So now that this post is history for you all, you get to decide how this history will affect your future view of the past.