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  • Doğukan Atmaca

Why History Matters

Updated: Sep 7, 2019

#history #business #future #world #politics #education #ericalterman #heredotus #annales #churchill


" The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are often no longer strong."

Winston Churchill


Eric Alterman, historian-journalist from the New Yorker, pointed out that the interest for studying history has decreased during the last decade. According to Benjamin Schmidt, history professor at Northeastern University, demonstrates in his published study that the number of students enrolled in history degrees has declined dramatically despite the increase in overall number of students in colleges. However, is this something really matter for us? How does studying the past affect our lives? Should we really know why Britain and Germany fought, or about ancient Roman society from thousands of years ago?


It is true that products of history do not give fruits immediately, and most of the time they are not even visible or recognizable unlike engineering or positive science branches. Biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science improve our lives with health treatments, cures, medicines, machines, technology and with many more important updates. Just consider how smartphones made our lives easier and more functional, or Facebook connecting people around the world, and Uber a fantastic taxi app becoming an inevitable tool of our daily lives. However, does history offer anything useful like those above?


To answer that, questioning the goal of history seems essential. As human beings, we live with awareness of our certain death without knowing its date, so naturally we wonder about our future. Nevertheless, it is impossible to know. History comes into the stage here by offering knowledge and understanding of the past which is cumulative data people left in the timeline. Let’s imagine us now on a blank white paper which represents the time. We would be just a small dot on it. We cannot know how time will change in the future, but history offers us a direction through the time has passed since a certain origin on the paper. By studying history we can add more dots linked to our current location on the blank page, the time. Now, we are aware of where we came from, so we can assume our future direction through the yet unknown time. We live in time going towards the unknown, being aware of our direction, from our past journey in the time, contribute to our individual and social lives a lot in every field. History improves our social, cultural ties which make us part of the society. We improve our laws, governing bodies, politics, social entertainment, our citizenship, our relations with states, institutions, and political, cultural relations on states level thanks to historical references and studies. This is simply because we understand and interpret “today” better.


History is much more than memorizing the dates of wars, agreements, or declarations. Historical thinking is a scientific way for improving our social lives depending on several variables such as elections, agriculture, trade, law, shopping, education; historical knowledge is personal and common need for better communication in a society and between societies. Therefore, it matters a lot, for example, for Britain and Germany to understand both countries’ ambitions in two World Wars to sustain peace, improve trade, and prevent conflicts. It matters for everyone in the world how civilization has evolved, what issues our ancestors experienced and how they solved them, or failed to solve. As it is not even clearly possible to limit the subjects of historical studies, it appears dangerous for us to underestimate, or neglect history.


Let me bring some political, social issues to ground the argument: the Israeli - Palestinian dispute. Historical thinking and knowledge would contribute to a solution here. Without studying Zionism, nationalism, Ottoman Palestine, British mandate, mass migration, all historical subjects, a solution will remain further as time passes. History is the methodology of analyzing the issue there, so historical studies will offer the best answer as well.

Furthermore, history allows individuals and societies, to be aware of the world surrounding them. History is the source of answers for a country’s economic crisis as well as successes which would improve the current economic policies, for instance. It is essential for a citizen to be aware of state institutions issuing passports, taxes, and providing protection. This kind of knowledge definitely improves our lives, as one would know his/her vote’s or taxes’ value, democracies would work better. If something is wrong made by the governors, only aware citizens can demand its correction, or maybe even a compensation.


History is much more than memorizing the dates of wars, agreements, or declarations. Historical thinking is a scientific way for improving our social lives depending on several variables such as elections, agriculture, trade, law, shopping, or education; historical knowledge is personal and common essential need for better communication in a society and between societies. Therefore, it matters a lot, for example, for Britain and Germany to understand both countries’ ambitions in two World Wars to sustain peace, improve trade, and prevent conflicts. It matters for everyone in the world how civilization has evolved, what issues our ancestors experienced and how they solved them, or failed to solve. As it is not even clearly possible to limit the subjects of historical studies, it appears dangerous for us to underestimate, or neglect history.


World’s population has been increasing so fast, and our future is threatened by wars, climate change, economic crises, and even by natural disasters. Science, as a whole, is the only way to be prepared and deal with those conflicts. History, as a social science using many other scientific disciplines such as geography, can educate us to be better, more responsible individuals, citizens, and finally, to become better civilized societies. In a world with increasing population, we need more people who are aware of their rights, who can analyse the policies, events happening around, and who can find an appropriate way of communication with different social classes. As a final reminder, history is the scientific way of shaping our future.


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