Why Study History?



The psychological need for history ?

Arthur Marwick:  “To those who pose the question ‘What is the use of history?’ the crispest and most enlightening reply is to suggest that they try to imagine what everyday life would be like in a society in which no one knew any history.  Imagination boggles, because it is only through knowledge of its history that a society can have knowledge of itself.  As a man without a memory and self-knowledge is a man adrift, so a society without memory (or more correctly without recollection) and self-knowledge would be a society adrift.”


Lewis Lapham:  I still cannot help thinking of people with a sense of history as orphans. Deprived of the feeling of kinship with a larger whole and a wider self, and unable to fix their position on the map of time, they don’t know that the story in the old books is their own. How, then, do they make sense of what they read in the newspapers, much less heed the counsel of the dead, or marshal the strength of their own minds against the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around?  (History is us,  1996)


R.G. Collingwood:  “What is history for?”  My answer is that history is ‘for’ self-knowledge … knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done.  The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.”


Carl Gustavson “History enables a person to see himself as part of that long process of human growth which has emerged out of the past and will inexorably project itself out beyond our lifetime.  We are the product of the past but not a completed product.”


History as intellectual training ?

G.R. Elton “The study of history is an intellectual pursuit … history…must concentrate on one thing: the search for truth.  Its real value as a social activity lies in the training it provides, the standards it sets, in this singularly human concern.”




·         A study of the past enables us to put our present day human societies into perspective.

·         We cannot understand the present without a study of the past.

·         History is an important intellectual discipline which improves our skills and understanding of the truth

·         History also provides us with perspectives on human behaviour, which enable us to look into mankind’s future.