What is History & Why Study It?
I. What Is History
History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past that enables us to study continuity and change over time.. It is an act of both investigation and imagination that seeks to explain how people have changed over time. Historians use all forms of evidence to examine, interpret, revisit, and reinterpret the past. These include not just written documents, but also oral communication and objects such as buildings, artifacts, photographs, and paintings. Historians are trained in the methods of discovering and evaluating these sources, and the challenging task of making historical sense out of them. Nevertheless, historians do not always agree on interpretations of the past. The debated differences help expand and enhance our understanding of human development.
II. Why Study History
History is a means to understand the past and present. The different interpretations of the past allows us to see the present differently and therefore imagine—and work towards—different futures. Through the study of history we can investigate and interpret why society developed as it has and determine what influences have affected the past and present and shape the future. It helps one to understand the immense complexity of our world and provides insights to help cope with the problems and possibilities of the present and future. History also provides a sense of identity to understand the collective past that has have made us what we are today. In one sense history is the only thing that is real. The way in which people identify and interact with one another is by and large a consequence of history, which shapes and conditions individuals and societies whether they fully understand it or not.
History is also a bridge to other disciplines. In order to understand the other humanities and the sciences one needs an historical overview. Writers, artists, scientists, politicians and everyday people all are conditioned by the historical milieu in which they lived. Historical knowledge is a prerequisite for understanding the world in which we live.
History is magister vitae, "teacher of life." History prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet the challenges of the future because it provides us with understanding of the human condition. History is a means of disseminating and comprehending the wisdom and folly of our forbears.
History is fun. History fulfills our desire to know and understand ourselves and our ancestors. History allows one to vicariously experience countless situations and conditions, which stimulates the imagination and creativity. It also trains its students to read intelligently, think critically, and write effectively.
See also “Why Become a Historian” www.theaha.org/pubs/why/blackeyintro.htm and “Why Study History” www.theaha.org/pubs/stearns.htm .