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Why Study History?

While many would be quick to dismiss the importance of history, varying between token affirmation at best – as evidenced by von Ranke’s observation that historical records are merely the trace remnants of the past – to an outright dismissal – as suggested by Napoleon’s remark that history is nothing but a consensus view of yesteryears. However, I believe that despite the lack of direct relevance accorded to it, the study of history is important.

As Sam Wineburg (2001) remarks, “history holds the potential […] of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas,” within education itself. As a psychologist, Wineburg’s thesis is premised on a point that is difficult to articulate: that the tension between the familiar and the strange results from every encounter with the past. From my understanding, it is from navigating these tensions that one yields the rewards of historical study.

The study of history, involves immersing one’s self with unfamiliar circumstances – for example, our tech-savvy media-soaked world does not understand the concept of waging war without twenty four hour coverage and our rapidly accelerating technological culture does not understand the meaning of a technologically static epoch – yet recognizing the familiar components: families and governments, ideological causes and individual concerns.

As Stearns (2008) notes, history is essentially a repository of individual and societal behavior, one that relies on recorded events rather than the theoreticals of sociology and psychology. Encounters with history, have shaped my perspective on the world. The ways in which agricultural history, as examined by Richard Manning, have influenced the political and economic structure of human society since before the time of Christ have given me an ability to question the assumptions about civilization that we take for granted.

The history of intellectual property legislation as explored by Lawrence Lessig, also shaped my understanding of creativity and innovation. While neither of these names are historians, it is their unique approach to historical matters as they relate to real world concerns that have developed my interest in the subject of history itself. At present, my strongest interest in history is Germany, which is unique within Europe as being one of its youngest nations, yet is given much attention by historians of both World Wars.

I am primarily interested in its emergence as a nation resulting from the unification of German States. My second interest is in the history of the Scandinavian nations, which despite being given little popular attention, are fascinating to me, because they constitute many of the big players of European history’s past.

REFERENCES

Wineburg, S. (2001) Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Stearns, P. S. (2008, July 11) “Why Study History? ” American Historical Association.

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