Why Study History?

Why Study History?

By Peter N. Stearns as published on the American Historical Association website.

“People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been? Given all the desirable and available branches of knowledge, why insist—as most American educational programs do—on a good bit of history? And why urge many students to study even more history than they are required to?…”

“Historians do not perform heart transplants, improve highway design, or arrest criminals. In a society that quite correctly expects education to serve useful purposes, the functions of history can seem more difficult to define than those of engineering or medicine. History is in fact very useful, actually indispensable, but the products of historical study are less tangible, sometimes less immediate, than those that stem from some other disciplines.

In the past history has been justified for reasons we would no longer accept….”

“History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty. There are many ways to discuss the real functions of the subject—as there are many different historical talents and many different paths to historical meaning. All definitions of history’s utility, however, rely on two fundamental facts….”

Read more.

The above is only a small portion of what Peter Stearns wrote. I encourage you to read it in full. His writing is stunning and his reasons may encourage the historically challenged to become less challenged (or more depending on how you view it).


*Why Study History?. American Historical Association website 1998. http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm . Accessed Jul7 2013.