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Why Study History?

History Helps Us Understand People and Societies -----It offers the only extensive evidential base for the contemplation and analysis of how societies function History Helps Us Understand Change & How the Society We Live in Came to Be -----The past causes the present, and so the future. The Importance of History in Our Own Lives History Contributes to Moral Understanding -----Studying the stories of individuals and situations in the past allows a student of history to test his or her own moral sense, to hone it against some of the real complexities individuals have faced in difficult settings. History Provides Identity -----Historical data include evidence about how families, groups, institutions and whole countries were formed and about how they have evolved while retaining cohesion. Studying History Is Essential for Good Citizenship History Is Useful in the World of Work -----Its study helps create good businesspeople, professionals, and political leaders.

It is commonly acknowledged that an understanding of the past is fundamental to an understanding of the present. The analysis and interpretation of history provide an essential context for evaluating contemporary institutions, politics, and cultures. Understanding the present configuration of society is not the only reason to study the past; history also provides unique insight into human nature and human civilization. By demanding that we see the world through the eyes of others, that we develop a sense of context and coherence while recognizing complexity and ambiguity, and that we confront the record not only of human achievement but also of human failure, cruelty, and barbarity, the study of history provides us with a richly-textured, substantive framework for understanding the human condition and grappling with moral questions and problems. History is essential to the traditional objectives of the liberal arts, the quest for wisdom and virtue. There is another reason to study history: it's fun. History combines the excitement of exploration and discovery with the sense of reward born of successfully confronting and making sense of complex and challenging problems. The study of history is a window into the past that provides understanding of the present-day, and how individuals, nations, and the global community might develop in the future. Historical study instructs how societies came to be and examines cultural, political, social, and economic influences across time and space. It also builds the personal understanding of how we as individuals are the sum of a vast range of past experience and actors ourselves in the process of historical change. In short, the study of the past helps lead to greater personal insight and comprehension of each person’s place in the grand sweep of the human story. The study of history helps instruct one in skills that have universal application, no matter what one’s life work might become. Students of history learn good habits of thought. They analyze ideas and data, and develop original interpretations of such materials. They are also schooled in expressing themselves well, both verbally and in writing, essential skills whether one becomes a teacher, doctor, lawyer, businessperson, consultant, nurse—or whatever calling one may choose. Historical studies also offer flexibility in the pursuit of jobs. The question often asked by prospective history majors is: “I enjoy history, but what jobs are available once I get my degree?” Teaching is usually the first answer, and the answer most students anticipate, but history majors actually find jobs in a wide variety of fields. The following list is merely a sample: journalism, publishing, museums, state and federal governmental agencies, public relations, FBI, CIA, and banking.

The purpose of historical inquiry is not simply to present facts but to search for an interpretation of the past. Historians attempt to find patterns and establish meaning through the rigorous study of documents and artifacts left by people of other times and other places. The study of history is vital to a liberal arts education. History is unique among the liberal arts in its emphasis on historical perspective and context. Historians insist that the past must be understood on its own terms; any historical phenomenon--an event, an idea, a law, or a dogma for example--must first be understood in its context, as part of a web of interrelated institutions, values, and beliefs that define a particular culture and era. Among the liberal arts, history is the discipline most concerned with understanding change. Historians seek not only to explain historical causality--how and why change occurs within societies and cultures. They also try to account for the endurance of tradition, understand the complex interplay between continuity and change, and explain the origins, evolution, and decline of institutions and ideas. History is also distinguished by its singularly broad scope. Virtually every subject has a history and can be analyzed and interpreted in historical perspective and context; the scope of historical inquiry is bound only by the quantity and quality of surviving documents and artifacts.