Why Study History?

Why study history?

As a Greek and Roman studies minor, I encounter a lot of people asking this same question. I think it stems partially from the 'humanities are useless' mindset that pervades every conversation on postsecondary studies, but also from the assumption that history is not relevant to modern life. "It's not like it's useful," I've heard some people say.

But what's past is prologue. We cannot successfully make choices in the present without first understanding the past. Everything that society is today results from our history. We would never be living, breathing, in this moment without the actions of our forebears.

Aside from the research and analytical skills that are cultivated through the study of history, it gives us a broader perspective on life. It's reassuring to know that you are not alone in the struggles you face--someone long ago probably experienced the same thing. Feuding with your friends? Caesar and Pompey went through it as well. Caught in a love triangle? So were Harmodius and Aristogeiton--though I wouldn't suggest murdering your Hipparchus as a means of resolving romantic tensions. History tells us that our joys and sorrows were shared by people living centuries before us--and will likely be felt centuries after we are gone.

It's an interesting side effect of studying the past, but I often find myself thinking of how future generations will look back on our time. What will they think about our technology, our politics? What of the lives we led? What of our personal legacy--when scholars and historians read about the 21st century, whose names will be written in the history textbooks? Sappho, 7th century poet, wrote, "Someone will remember us, I say--even in another time." But how are you to be remembered? What will people say of our actions in the present?

So when I study stories of those who are long passed, when I read words inscribed centuries ago, it is with the knowledge that the past is anything but dead. History is happening in the now--it's up to us to make it.


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