What is the Importance of History?

History is not confined to the study of past but, it is related to the past, present and future. Every happening has specific context and it leads to specific effects. The present of today is going to be the past of tomorrow. The origin of each contemporary problem lies in the past. The present situation shapes up through the past and it also decides the future direction. e.g. ‘reservation’ is one of the hot issues of today. It has its grassroots in the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British rule. History escorts the decision making for the future. We can perceive the decisions and their deeds of our ancestors, their influence from history. We can create a bright future through understanding which things to follow and which blunders to avoid of our forefathers.

“History is the record of the life of the societies of man, of the changes which those societies have gone through, of the ideas which have determined the action of those societies and the material conditions which have helped or hindered their development.” Charles Vth expresses the broader view of history. He agrees that history is the record but, he also describes the details of the records.

Importance is given to how human society developed, how different cultures upspring (e.g. Harappa culture, Egyptian culture) in the flow of time. Social system is reckoned to be the core in history in every period whether it may be ancient or modern. History also includes study of how societies transformed, which reforms occurred (for example; industrial revolution, globalization etc.) Study of constructive as well as destructive actions of mankind in different times and at various levels, their impacts and the ideologies behind them are also involved in history.

  1. Diverse Human society and social life in different times, at different levels and in different situations.
  2. Revolutions and reforms in human society during the course of time.
  3. Deeds by human society and thoughts and ideologies behind them.
  4. Physical conditions favourable and unfavorable to human development.

It is necessary to study the historical events on the basis of evidences and causal relationships. It promotes research attitude. Mental and ideological competence is fostered. One has to think divergently and multidimensional while reaching at conclusion about an event rather than just thinking convergent. History is not just a subject of study or entertainment perhaps, it is the lamp of experience. Cromwell says, “God manifests himself through history.” It means history shows direction regarding deciding about right-wrong, moral way.

Martin Luther says, “History is the mirror of looking at owns self.” “Curiosity about the past events is the feature of human nature.” This statement of McMurry reflects the natural tendency of mankind to know about the history. We come to know about the braveries our ancestors had done, the qualities upon which they gained success through studying history of our ancestors. But we also understand their blunders, perceive about their mistakes due to which their next generations had to suffer. Subsequently we can try to avoid such blunders and mistakes.

Edmond Burk says, “History is the guide of foresight.” We need to have knowledge about the past of our motherland while maturing form a child to be an adult. We can gain the awareness about the efforts and sacrifice made by our ancestors in the freedom and security of our Nation, cultural tradition of our Nation, contribution of our Nation to the entire human species, legends born in this soil, sustainable philosophy in our soil and the sense of responsibility on our shoulders to preserve and nurture it as we are the future citizen of this Nation. History in this perspective engraves discretion, urge for truth, courage, non-violence, just, freedom equality, patriotism, international understanding, persistence, perseverance, self-esteem on the minds of people. It also throws light on the evil customs, blind beliefs, traditions, social revolutions and works of legends against them. History subsequently tries to promote idological renaissance through it

Study of history helps in the development of memory, imagination and thought process as a whole. When we study the past events and characters, we tend to see ourselves in them. Our imagination and thought process fosters through it. Truth narration is a great gift of history. We can understand the truth about what had happened in the past. Our bias, misperceptions or wrong egos get cleared. Reader is helped by history in the study of other subjects.

Tarmious has aptly said, “History helps to bridge the usual gulf in education between theory and practice.” History works in bringing theories closer to the life and reality. An individual is able to see the educational knowledge through life-oriented outlook due to history. History is considered as mother of all subjects. Study of history is directly or indirectly supplementary to the learning of other subjects. History can become the medium of social unity while narrating our ancestors, our Nation, our culture and our traditions. It can assist in nurturing National integration by bringing people closer ideologically and emotionally. While doing this, history also gives education of humanity and international brotherhood. It shows us that we are all humans first; we do have same needs and same feelings. We are all incomplete without each other. Hence, history teaches us to look at each other with affection, love and cooperation and not with enmity. It gives the lessons of humanity. History strongly promotes internationalism through widening of human outlook. Therefore, importance of history as the mother of all subjects, source of all values, teacher of human mind and attitude and philosophy of living successful life is incredible.

History is not merely the collection of events. In fact, it is the discovery of events in detail. History means narrating about the past happenings as they happened. It is necessary to search history to understand the present. If the present is not perceived properly, it will not be possible to foresight the future. History enables the prompt perception of present on the basis of which the future can be foresighted properly. Hence, the main job of historian is not just recording the events but, to evaluate them.

The importance of history has increased in modern times. Along with telling the occurrences, nature of history is becoming widespread through intellectual analysis of facts and to draw conclusions for the future on their basis. Earlier history was confined to political dynasties and families of Kings. It was related only with battles, victories, defeats and treaties. But, this nature of history has become a history. All social aspects of common man, customs, traditions, languages, ideas, thoughts and behaviours are considered in history in modern times. In fact, the daily of man has now become the part of history.

Historiography has to be considered as equally responsible for the transforming scope of history as learning of history was limited only up to political events and incidents till 19th century. But today we deliberate social, economic, political, moral, literature, religious, etc. aspects while considering history as we think about human development in history. Hence, we must have to consider these all aspects. Support of literature is taken to make history subject brighter and more attractive rather than let it remain dull-lifeless. Historiography has continued to collect sources with the help of above-mentioned subjects and to give insight into the events occurred in the past.

History is reckoned as a science since 20th century. Prof. Bury from Cambridge University has firmly said, “History is a science, no more no less.” It changed the direction of study of history. Dynamics of time and history taken into account while understanding history. History is a discipline. Many streams have emerged through the fine study of history. More motion is occurring in the process of regional and local historiography. National history shapes up through regional and local history. Hence, world history and National history are called macro history while regional history is called micro history.

The study of history is like visiting strange far-off lands. Like travel, it takes us out of the narrowness and commonplace events of everyday life. It presents before us an exciting picture of the march of man across the centuries, and the work of the multitudes of human beings trying to pass on to us a better life than theirs. It is the story of the development of human society, its arts and letters, philosophy and religion, adventure and administration, culture and way of life, and all other aspects relating to man’s significant activities. It is rightly said that history depicts “the struggle of man to carry truth and justice into the administration of human society, in the rise and fall of the creeds, in the world of ideas and in the character and deeds of the great actors in the drama of life, where good and evil fight out their everlasting battle.”

History helps us to understand how the world developed into what it is. It makes us know interesting men and women and promotes in us a knowledge of human nature. It links the present with the past, and enables us to see how man has discovered better ways of living and built up orderly societies which we call civilisation. The study of history is no waste of time or luxury, but a pressing need. A nation that forgets history will have no future. It is the epitome of human experience, and it makes men wise by teaching them what is good so that it may be adopted, and what is bad, so that it may be avoided.

History attempts to give us the meaning of life. Man starts to search for the purpose of life. He puts such questions as why and how do I live? Where have I come from? In this search for the reality of the past, he comes to know that he has built institutions; he has waged wars; he has made treaties of peace; and he has invented thousands of things to make life comfortable. In this sense history gives us an insight into man’s life and action. This knowledge is very helpful to him. It offers him a mental discipline which helps him to meet new problems soberly and intelligently, and not emotionally and superficially. Although man now controls nature, and possesses enough knowledge about it, he cannot control his own emotions and ambitions. He can send a rocket to the moon but he has not yet eradicated hunger and poverty on this earth. A knowledge of the past as to how man has suffered because of his mistakes may help humanity to correct itself, and thus history may meet the demands of pressing social needs.

History has the ability to improve the understanding of man. Man has left behind the deeds of his day for the education and the enjoyment of posterity. Such a study will not only furnish a mental discipline but also will enable one to know the past and interpret its significance. It will come in time to meet our daily needs and will ultimately play an infinitely more important role in an intellectual life. Any phenomenon or principle cannot be understood philosophically or intelligently unless it is explained historically. We cannot understand any issue properly unless its whole background is furnished to us. A doctor would not be able to diagnose the disease unless he is posted with the history of the case; and that is why the word history appears in bold letters on top of the prescription chit.

By placing the facts of life before a person, history which is a study of human nature enables him to live in a state of peace and understanding. History in that case becomes a guide pointing in the direction of unity and progress. As history is a voice ever sounding across the centuries about the laws of right and wrong, it could become an instrument to promote human understanding. Those sovereigns and statesmen who had a good knowledge of history, like Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Churchill and Nehru, have played a vital role in history. The true interpretation of history is to view it as the record of social, moral and intellectual education of man, which is so essential to dispel darkness. History not only tells us about the right principles of life, but also warns us through concrete examples about the inevitable destruction of society, if these principles were to be neglected

The purpose of history has been to indicate what mistakes man has done in the past, how he could avoid them in the future and how he could preserve the four freedoms, namely the freedom from want, freedom from oppression, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The moralists required that man should put his conscience into harmony with true historical development.

History not only educates a man, but also trains his mind. Before we begin to understand or improve any system or idea the Best thing, we do is to find out the history of that system or idea. A musician or a mathematician or a philosopher could never understand or improve a new idea until he is very clear of the antecedents of that idea. When Bertrand Russell was asked about the need for history, he said, “I think it is enormously important, it gives stability and it gives depth to your thought and to your feeling.” The present is the child of the past, and has grown out of the past. Our present social, political and economic conditions are the result of factors that preceded them. This chain of cause and effect goes back to the dim past. We in the twentieth century are closely affected by what was done by Ripon, Dalhousie, Shivaji, Akbar, Babar, Harsha, Samudragupta. Asoka, Buddha, Vyasa and their predecessors going back to the cavemen of the Stone Age.

We teach history to children because it helps them in gaining powers of memory, imagination and reasoning. It has ethical values as history is philosophy teaching by examples. It inculcates in young minds moral laws of right and wrong. It fosters patriotism in our youth, for they would feel a sense of pride by the knowledge of our rich heritage and glory of the past, which should instill these are secondary issues that come under the importance of history.

The primary aim is to promote understanding of the present by a knowledge of the past. To the question, “What is history for?” Collingwood answered, “It is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing what it is to be the kind of man you are; and thirdly, what it is to be the man you are and nobody else is.”

Lord Acton explained the necessity for history thus,” If the past has been an obstacle and a burden, knowledge of the past is the safest and the surest emancipation.” An objective study of history would save humanity from bigotry, bias and obsessions. Lecky observes, “He who has learned to understand the true characters and them a sense of love for the motherland. But tendency of many succeeding years is not likely to go very far wrong in estimating his own.”

Thinkers have gone to the extent of saying that all our hopes of the future depend on a sound knowledge of the past. In conclusion it must be said that history has the capacity to inspire youth to higher pursuits of life, and to stimulate the aged to endure the inevitable. History is a delight in itself. It is an adventure in the field of reconstructing the hazy past. Trevelyan said that “History’s chief but not the only significance is poetic as a great poem is an epic without beginning or end.” The importance of history may not be so much scientific as educational, to broaden the vision, to enlarge the understanding and to promote the pleasure of contemplation.

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