"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Why We Study History

From one of the texts I am using for my Exploring Place: History class — A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community by Robert R. Archibald — comes as clear an explanation of why we study history as I’ve ever come across:

[Memory] is an ongoing process through which we create usable narratives that explain the world in which we live, stories that inevitably connect us to each other, history that builds community. The community we create is founded in shared remembrance and grounded in place, especially those places that are conducive to the casual associations necessary for emergence of shared memory…. Places, memories, and stories are inextricably connected, and we cannot create a real community without these elements.

So there is a point to history, for history is a process of facilitating conversations in which we consider what we have done well, what we have done poorly, and how we can do better, conversations that are a prelude to action…. As we face the past, we are also facing the future. — pp. 24-25

Come to think of it, these are some of the reasons why we write (and write blogs!) too.


  1. Yes, connections must be made outcomes must be studied.

    It is funny though, as it would seen if we truly used history correctly we would not repeat it so often. Instead I hear things like “history dictates that….this or that will happen”. In fact there are very few things which history need dictate if used as the tool it truly is meant to be it would suggest not dictate.

  2. I think that history tends to repeat itself because human nature stays pretty much the same so there are the same forces in place. For me, studying history allows me to more fully understand human nature. The study of history might allow us to make fewer of the same mistakes but only if a large enough segment of the active population has the same perspective on it. I think you do see lessons learned across a broad sweep of time. For example, slavery, though it still exists and sometimes in horrifying forms, is considered absolutely wrong by a large portion of the “civilized” world. That is definitely a change from earlier times.

  3. Hi, Karen…. just wanted to thank you for commenting on my “Why We Study History” post. I plan to pick up the “history repeating itself” theme again soon, and when I do, I’ll include what you said and extend the discussion a little.

    I saw a comment you wrote on Mark Stoneman’s Clio and Me … glad you are joining BlogCatalog and the history group Mark started. I’ve come across a lot of fascinating blogs on BlogCatalog, and am starting to “meet” some very nice and smart people, and look forward to seeing you there.

    Are you on (or planning to join) MyBlogLog? It’s a little repetitious to be on both sometimes, but each one’s a little different and I’ll likely stick with the two (and just those two!) for a while. I’ve gotten a lot of good traffic from both, and MyBlogLog has nice views of my site statistics that are helping me figure out where people are coming from and what interests them.

    Thanks again for commenting, let me know when they have approved you on BlogCatalog (as Mark said, they can be a little slow, I think it was 2-3 days before I heard from them also).



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