Let’s face it, our first experience with History is that it is a course that we have to take in order to graduate. As a junior and senior high school student we are confronted with American history, state history and perhaps even a general course in western civilization or world history. We didn’t have a choice. And the fact that we are forced to take history puts us on the offensive. We begin to build that grandiose brick wall that will prevent us from getting anything important out of history.
The main problem as I see it, is not history itself. The study of history can be fun. But there’s only one thing that can make our first experience with history a miserable thing indeed: and that’s a poor instructor. I was fortunate. I managed to have a number of excellent history instructors throughout my high school years and this was at a time when I was leaning toward the physical sciences, geology and biology to be exact. I might not have been an excellent history student, but I do remember having excellent history teachers.
Fine. That’s my experience. But experience aside, why study history in the first place? What could history offer the business major? the student intending to study web page development? the student taking her first psychology class? or pre-med student? or the lawyer? or the worker on the shop floor? Well, simply stated, everything has a history, whether we like it or not. Even history itself has a history. Try hard as we might, we can’t escape the past. We can’t let go of the past. And we celebrate the past all the time.
You may have been told that we study history so that we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. This is the wishful thinking school of historical interpretation. It’s too clean. If we have learned from the past then over the centuries we ought to have accumulated so much knowledge that things like war, poverty, injustice and immorality ought not to exist. Of course, we’ve still got a long way to go in this respect.