“What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.” – Victor Hugo
History is the study of the past. Studying history is important because it allows us to understand the past which in turn informs the present and the future. If we want to know why and how our world came to be the way it is, we need to look to history for the answers.
When we study history, we learn how we got here. It also helps to shape our future even as we are making history ourselves. We are supposed to gain wisdom when we observe the same mistake being repeated throughout history.
People often say that “history repeats itself”, but we can avoid this cliché if we study the successes and failures of the past. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid repeating them in the present and the future.
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke
It’s difficult to pick examples to demonstrate learnings from history – no really it is, there’s just so much history out there to choose from!!
Let’s just pick a couple of BIG examples….
Everyone will have heard about the cold war era. The cold war started in 1947 and only de-escalated in the late 80s. In more recent times, historical political arguments, disputes and ‘land grabs’ have quickly escalated into conflicts or near conflicts that have threatened stability on a wide scale.
Indeed, fairly recently, we have seen the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran – to name but one example! If we are not careful, what is playing out in the international stage right now will have a knock-on effect for years to come.
The question needs to be asked, could these tensions and conflicts have been avoided by reading a little history? Probably. History is a record of past events and by analysing the mistakes from that era, we are in better position to avoid them in the future. We can see the same mistakes being repeated today (as mentioned above) and if it continues, it most certainly will not end well.
History helps us to realise that we have dealt with the same issues before and that the answers often can be found in the history books if we only but look.
“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” – Robert Heinlein
A study of history allows us to step back and gain perspective. So, for our second BIG example, what about that dreaded word…BREXIT!
When Brexit was first put forward as a referendum and the majority voted to leave the EU, was it understood or publicised as to why we joined the EU in the first place? Was there any reasoned assessment of the original ideals versus where we found ourselves at the referendum?
In all the debates about whether to leave or not to leave the EU, it’s not clear that anybody put forward a historical perspective to help enable people to understand the full implications of either side. This might have enabled people to make a reasoned judgement based on the original vision verses how the EU actually panned out.
Whatever your Brexit view-point, a little bit of historical context is always useful!
We study history not to be clever in another time, but to be wise always” – Marcus Tulluis Cicero
History is important, not only to be knowledgeable about where we have been, but also to help us with the future. History is full of people who have made mistakes or been in similar situations, by studying it, we can help to shape our own destinies – we can learn wisdom and more importantly, avoid the mistakes of the past.