Why Study History?


We often ask the question, Why study history? The answer we hear is that we have to. Yet we study history for a variety of reasons--to understand people who thought and acted differently than we do in our own time, to seek self knowledge, to make sense of a time radically different from our own time, to find a sense of distance from the present to aid us in placing our own times in perspective, to help us understand how we got to where we are now, and a whole host of other reasons. One of the many things we learn about the human condition through the study of the past is the very contingency of human society, how little human life is predetermined and how much people actively have shaped times passed. Some would find this frightening to contemplate in the modern world; others find it consoling. The question has intrigued philosophers of history for eons.

Perhaps the best explanation for studying history was given by the blind Czech historian Milan Hubl to the novelist Milan Kundera:

"The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history, Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster."

(Source: Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

Below, you will find listed some key works that may be helpful in dealing with this complicated, interesting question, Why study history? We hope you will come to the History Department in search of courses and instructors that will help you answer that question for yourself.