Why Study History?


‘The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally “salable” skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.’

– Peter N. Stearns (1998) Why Study History? American Historical Association

‘Let’s be clear about the consequences. [Students who lack a certain basic knowledge of history and civics] leave college civically disempowered, too ignorant to understand how our institutions of government work and how we arrived at the policies and challenges we have today. […] This is a problem we are inflicting on ourselves, and it can have real consequences for the future. It may not be crucial for students to memorize every line of the Declaration of Independence or list the dates of every battle during World War II, but if they don’t know the underlying significance of these events, they will neither understand the present nor be ready for the future.’
– Daniel Burnett (13 September, 2014) FDR was president during which war? USA Today

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