Why Does History Matter?

We have all experienced chanting the names of King Henry VIII’s six wives and having to recall from memory the pivotal events from 1066 as children. It was difficult to see the relevance of these aspects of British history in the 21st century; I personally felt quite disconnected from them and was conflicted with how I felt about history as a subject. However, studying these topics at a later stage in life turned fascinating due to a recontextualised understanding of Tudor England as a result of the Mid-Tudor Crisis. I was able to gain an improved understanding of how the lives of people from that era were impacted by the changes in their society. This field of study has become  much more interesting since  I gained a more holistic comprehension as to how the world works and understood  the context as to why different societies may have starkly differing views on the exact same thing. 

Origins of History

The origins of the study of history is widely contested,with some saying it dates back to Herodotus, from 5th-century BC Greece, and others arguing that it originates with state chronicles from East Asia dating back to around 722 BC. Nonetheless, these have been regarded as some of the earliest accounts of history. However, history is sometimes interchangeable with traditions and stories, and can even take on an art form; the action of recalling history therefore has been prevalent throughout humanity. 

Historiography is the study of history, and this has been studied from many different angles, such as from a religious perspective and due to this history now exists in different forms, ranging from economic history to environmental history and even niche themes such as the history of hairstyles. It can reveal aspects about society such as social stratification, attitudes to religion, politics, and human behaviour. The purpose of history, therefore varies; It can manifest itself in different forms, such as by informing people of their past, or gives insights into important components in the world, such as paper, and history has been used as the basis of nationalism – shown by various movements, an example of that being the Catalan independence movement.

History’s Relevance

Whilst all may not be able to see the relevance of history at a first glance, with some doubts existing as to how the study of the past can be of any value  to events of the present, history is important because understanding what occurred in the past can explain the world today and its current events. When considering the issue of climate change, for example, history succeeds in  revealing why the state of the climate is the way it is today, by defining the changes in how humans interacted with the environment in the 20th century, with ‘developing countries’  contributing greatly to this ,due to the ‘technologies’ that allowed ‘their growth’. 

History is helpful as it can allow us to predict the future declines or progress of our dealings with the environment, since it gives us patterns and deviations of the past to look to , helping to improve the present and future . This subject allows people to gain a better understanding of the complexities of this world, improving comprehension of current world issues and, most importantly, allowing for critical analysis and evaluative skills.

In the UK, the study of history is part of compulsory education from ages 5 to 14, with there being the option to continue this subject further. This ensures that children understand the idea of how memory works – usually by reflecting on each individual’s family history and allowing pupils to understand the significance of certain historical events, figures, and places from an early age.

However, there are some obstacles that may discourage people from enjoying this discipline, since “History is written by the victors ”, a quote usually attributed to Winston Churchill, and may not always reflect everyone’s story. History requires reliability and conviction since it is an activity of ensuring the evidence is significant to the enquiry. Because of the power structures that have been put in place, what is regarded as ‘important’ historically has shaped how the subject is approached and can explain why it may be perceived negatively by some. But for this reason, history can be deemed even more important as the way a society writes, recalls, and studies its past can reveal certain truths about it that other fields of study may not. There are many ways of learning about history – ranging from school, literature and many online platforms. There is a risk of people not being aware of history that they believe is not relevant to them. However, being literate in different branches of history may allow for a wider and a more informed understanding as to why the world is this way. History is important because of how it impacts the way we comprehend and view things, so historians and institutions must find more ways of ensuring the benefits of this study are evident to people.

History and Societies

Individuals in a society usually share the same geographical territory and are subject to the same political authority and social norms. Learning about the different factors that cause people to go against the structures in place, through revolutions, for example, is one way of examining the wider context of the different elements comprising a society. The Kett’s and Western Rebellion during the Tudor period have been interpreted as being a ramification of socioeconomic grievances, because of the evidence pointing to the impacts of enclosures, as well as religious concerns, which had their crossovers in Tudor England. History questions what is the likeliest and the analysing of different factors can be applied to different enquiries, such as the enquiry of the cause of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, which similarly had its own distinctive socioeconomic, political, cultural, and religious factors. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to history ensures there is an interaction of politics, economics, sociology, and anthropology, and is beneficial in its own right due to what assumptions we can make from existing patterns about how certain events may turn out in the future. 

The Relationship Between History and Nationalism

Nationalism is an ideology advocating for the sovereignty and political autonomy of a nation and its people. The requirements of who belongs to a nation can be complicated, as the concept of nationhood is often  based on the presence of a shared history. Flags, for example, are comparable to a snapshot of a nation’s ties to its history, with the colours and iconography characteristic of its past/heritage, since the representation attached to a flag can allude to a community’s political and, possibly, moral system of beliefs, as well as their attitudes and relationships with other nations. It is symbolic of the struggles, the strengths, and the dynamics of a country;  – this is all based on the history of a place, indicating that flags are a very powerful manifestation of nationalism, and are therefore important historically.

The 2020 Pandemic and the Future of History

History allows moral lessons to be learnt, as well as inspiring individuals and societies alike to aim higher. This idea can be applied to the current pandemic we are facing, as the strengths and weaknesses of how we have dealt with epidemics and diseases in the past act as a guide as to how to approach this global phenomenon. Parallels have been drawn with the Spanish Flu, despite this pandemic occurring in the 21st century in which there are many scientific developments. That being said, there have been reflections on past epidemics, as evident by South Korea’s successful procedures, which were based on lessons learned from the MERS outbreak of  2015. History has been a valuable resource  for governments worldwide in terms of navigating this pandemic, as well as being a source of comfort in showing us how humanity may progress from here.  

The COVID-19 outbreak  has put the world on pause, halting the usual progress of the 21st century. The pandemic has impacted everyone in some way, and the manner in which it will be remembered will be influential to future decisions taken if similar circumstances arise. Highlights of this pandemic include toilet paper hoarding, a global rise in the use of TikTok as well as more concern for key workers and the economic implications of global lockdowns. The effects of this pandemic on individuals and societies will be studied and debated for time after this, signifying the importance of history.  

History Matters

Understanding the depths of our history, and the scale as to how different events intersect in this world will forever be significant. Contemporary social, economic, religious, and political issues all have historical contexts that reflecting on will help for them to be understood and overcome. Our own history, as well as that of societies around us, is something we should all collectively aim to understand better and appreciate.

History allows for an all-encompassing comprehension of past events, which are beneficial to understand due to the moral lessons we can learn from them and the information they can provide us over current events, which is clearly shown when considering the current pandemic. The way history is recalled by historians who all have different views of the same event should be studied, as it allows for critical analysis of how people can reach different conclusions of things , and allows us to form our own opinions. History needs to be made to become more engaging, and experts  need to emphasise its relevance, in order to allow those who may find it boring to discover its significance for themselves  – This will ultimately allow for wider discussions and broader insight into how the present and future can be improved simply from a better understanding of the past.

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