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Old Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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Default What is History, Lessons we learn from it, benefits of its study.

What is history?


History includes everything: science, art, economics, inventions, games, etc. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If I painted a canvas all black one hundred years ago and called it art, people would have thought me insane or stupid. If I spoke of free love to a Puritan, they would have thought me a slave to Satan. If I invented a sewing machine, and people preferred the quality of handmade products and felt threatened by machines, the machine would not sell.

History involves relationships: past to present, action to action. It involves the whys of life. One sees similarities between events, peoples and ideas and thereby gains understanding, appreciation and perspective. The study of history involves reading, thinking and interpreting. These skills can be used throughout life. Interpreting means that instead of having an opinion, you will have facts and information to support your position. You won't simply "feel" something. Your position may stay the same, or change, or be modified, but through the study of history, you will learn to defend your position.


History according to the Webster Dictionary:

A chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.A branch of knowledge that records and explains past events (medieval history)

This traditional definition is broad enough to compass the study, as most people know it. Notice how it states that history is a “chronological record” and how “events” are emphasized in each sub-definition. Assuming this, history is grounded in the arrangement and explanation of events in the order in which they occur; that is chronology at its root. At its best, timelines can make excellent visual aids. At its worst, history becomes a field of study that one must endure endless memorization of places, figures, and dates.


Lessons we learn from History.

History is one subject in the galaxy of subjects that teaches its readers not only the subject, but also a lot of wisdom. Most people hold the view that history is just a list of events that have occurred and put only in a chronological order. True history is a chronological list of events. But, if we study it only as that we are missing on it and we are not giving the subject its correct status.

This subject has such a large perspective of things that, no other subject that is studied ever can be without its history. Science has a history, technological development has a history, religion has a history. No subject of any significance is without a history, then how can we say that history is trash. If man had not discovered that fire can be produced by rubbing two stones, how would the theory of creating of fire come into being? If the ancient man would not have produced the wheel, how could we know to the present uses of the wheel? If the Hindu religion did not have the division of castes, how would the present situation f castes come into being? So we can say that the very essence of man's progress is based on history and its study.

The evolution of man itself is based on history, his progress and most of his scientific and technological developments are all the results of man's history, of the History of evolution had not been confined into history books, and if we had not read these books, how would we know about our past, and how would we maintain the tempo of development and progress. Man learnt from his mistakes, his experiences, the shortcomings of his ancestors, and continued to progress. Is this not a contribution of history? Does this not make the study of history important for us? The one single subject that had contributed so immensely to the constant and continuous growth of civilization is the history.

Another plea for not studying this drab subject is when people say history is just what passed away people have done. In this regard we must remember that we are not only studying what they did but, in the process, we are trying to understand what mistakes have they committed, and why? It has often been said that, history repeats itself. This means that if we repeat the same mistakes we will reach the same disasters. Is this very little an advantage of study of the subject that, as people, as a community, as a country, we realize the mistakes of our ancestors, and we do not commit the same mistakes and get the same results? So, here comes the wisdom imparted by this lone subject. It is only after the study of history that we can assess the mistakes of the preceding generations. It is from history the Britishers have learned the imperialism cannot continue for ever. It is from history that Indians have learned that we have to remain united to keep the country one single unit, to keep it safe and strong. It is the study of history that makes the modern world shudder to think of another nuclear holocaust.

The memory of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is still fresh in the minds of the world and so the fear of repetition of this keeps us aware and cautious. If we had not studied all these facts written in our history books, our reservoir of knowledge would have been much less, and we would not have been so well aware of the results of certain actions. Is this not enough of a gift to the world, of just one single subject?

If there would not have been this subject, how would we ever be able to assess how much man has progressed from the animal he was, to the highly sophisticated creation of God that he is today? How would we ever know about our own India's rich cultural heritage, and so also how would we have been able to assess how and why we a have become a third world country as we are today? Again, all this because of our study of history.

The differences of culture in different parts of the world are also brought to our knowledge by the history of the world. It is only through the study of history that we come to know about the social, political and educational systems of the world, and we can adapt them to our country, if we feel the need. History! Besides gaining knowledge, this subject teaches us wisdom of life and teaches causes and effects of different actions. If we continue to learn from our history we shall never make the same mistakes again - and that would be quite a step forward. Like science, history also gives us formula. Science gives formula for progress of elements and history gives us formula of success. If we learn from History, we humans will certainly continue to forge ahead, and become a more and more disciplined and cultured force.

Besides the big lessons that we learn from History, it also teaches us how to behave in our day-to-day lives. We learn how discipline helped the forces of Alexander the Great to overcome Indians, and how at the same time and venue, the undisciplined forces of India surrendered to them. We learn how with their service to India through missionaries, the British could steadily spread their wings through the length and breadth of India. We learn from history how love for mankind made saints of Vivekanand, Gautam Buddha and Mahavira. We learn from history how, man's desire to dominate others result in the ultimate break up of the British Empire in India. The greatest lesson that history has taught us Indians is the lesson we learned from our struggle for independence, i.e. we learned how much we can achieve if we stand united and have flare for nationalism.

Thus, this single subject which often faces the - ridicule of students and elders provides us with a sea of knowledge, insight and wisdom. It also teaches what the finer feelings of love and service can do for man. This one subject teaches us to become human and of course, it is the alma mater of all other subjects, as the history of any subject is taught before starting the study of the subject itself. It may be said that history is the mother of all other subjects, and should not be considered as, only a chronology of events, of the world, it is much more than just that. It is this subject that gives us the understanding of all countries that we can assess our position and then continue on our path of progress.

When we study the biographies of great men, we learn how to follow their footsteps and try to achieve at least a semblance of their greatness. These biographies teach us the qualities of great men which we can emulate and try to be achievers. This single subject makes such an enormous contribution that it will not behave any of us to talk of it in a jocular tone, on slight it. It teaches us to be good humans. It teaches us what actions are likely to have what reactions. It brings to light our rich heritage and also teaches us how the other countries are progressing. So we can say that history is a great teacher.


Some nice quotations about History.


Professor Johnston often said that if you didn't know history, you didn't know anything. You were a leaf that didn't know it was part of a tree. ~Michael Crichton, Timeline

Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects. ~Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. ~David Thelen

History is not the past, but a map of the past drawn from a particular point of view to be useful to the modern traveler. ~Henry Glassie

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity." Cicero

"The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid." Livy

"What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." G. W. F. Hegel

"The function off the historian is neither to love the past nor to emancipate himself from the past, but to master and understand it as the key to the understanding of the present." E. H. Carr

"History is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a person; secondly, knowing what it is to be the kind of person you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the person you are and nobody else is. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what they can do until they try, 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." R. G. Collingwood

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. (George Orwell)

History is Philosophy teaching by examples. (Thucydides)

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (Santayana)

History is a people's memory, and without memory man is demoted to the lower animals. (Malcolm X)


Why should we study history?


There are many different reasons to study history, as it is a fantastic combination of all the other school subjects. There are many arguments over the importance of history, and these still go on today. In brief, the major arguments for studying history are as follows:

~History helps you discover how your world evolved.

~History helps you develop the skills to look beyond the headlines, to ask questions properly, and to express your own opinions.

~History trains your mind and teaches you how to think and process information.

~History students are rounded individuals who develop an understanding of both past and present.

~The pursuit of historical events and people is fun - a form of time travel.
History helps you make sense of most other subjects.

~A lack of historical knowledge prevents people from truly understanding the world they live in.

~History helps you understand the origins of modern political and social problems.

~History lets you learn how and why people behaved as they did, whether they are Elizabeth I, Hitler or John Lennon...

~History makes you appreciate that people in the past were not just 'good' or 'bad', but motivated in complex and inconsistent ways, just like us.

~History provides you with the skills employers are looking for.



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