The Importance of Studying History

Black Readers

While there are conspicuous benefits to studying history formally at a higher education institution, an individual is not limited to gaining historical knowledge inside a higher education institution.  A person has a few economical options available to learn more about history: (1) checkout and read history books at public libraries, (2) purchase used copies of history books online, especially on Amazon, and (3) read free online historical material, including websites devoted to history, e-books, and scholarly articles available through Google Scholar.  Understanding the past is crucial to comprehending the present and future.  Too often many are flabbergasted about national and international developments.  If they closely follow history, many national and international incidences will not astound them.

Whether one is a Marxist or not, reading the works of Karl Marx, especially Capital, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology, and The Communist Manifesto, will enable a person to see connections between economic and social evolutions.  By reading Marx, one gains an apposite understanding of capitalism and knowing the history of capitalism is requisite to a keen awareness of the history of the modern and postmodern world.

It would be wonderful to have a majority of elected leaders who are students of history.  Just imagine how much better our lives would be if they actually had a robust knowledge of history.  Through a firm awareness of history, our elected officials are able to be more informed about the likelihood of their policies experiencing success.  At the local and national level, too many failed policies of the past are being employed.  What’s frustrating is many elected officials believe they’re offering new policies—when, in reality, those policies have been used in the past and have been miserable failures.

A passion for studying history must birth throughout the nation.  American citizens cannot simply rely on their elected representatives to have a commitment to learning from history—they must be the ones who change their representatives’ relationship (or lack thereof) with history.  Although you may be a student of history, the mistakes of those around you who aren’t students of history can have a deleterious impact on you.  Any transformative changes in economic and social policy will necessitate that a firm historical understanding be evinced.  No matter how brilliant an idea may sound, if the idea is detached from the lessons of history, it will prove to not be so “brilliant” after all.  When we don’t demand our leaders to be led by history, we unintentionally encourage their ineptitude.

An excellent example of how many Americans lack serious historical knowledge is reflected in numerous reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.  Too many individuals are attempting to make claims about the film’s treatment of slavery when their responses don’t reveal they’re truly competent about slavery.  Before you proceed to compare the film’s depiction of slavery with the realities of American slavery, you actually have to know the history of American slavery.  Is this too much to ask?  Too many would rather just pontificate about the film and slavery than do the work necessary to have a credible appraisal of the film.  Spike Lee was foolish enough to admit that he was negatively criticizing the film without viewing it.  He expressed that he refuses to watch the film but he was unwilling to forego commenting about a film he has not viewed.  Does this make sense?     

You will find that when you engage more with reading history books, you will develop a greater appreciation for history and will have a more enriched understanding of yourself and the world in which you reside.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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5 responses

  1. As a student of history a co-worker who is a history major and myself were talking about what would make society as a whole better… we both agreed that history was the answer.

    The problem with “history” in American schools (in my opinion) is that it needs to be reworked entirely, people think of “history class” whenever they hear the word history and they think of the boring curriculum and the painful texts that they had to read back in class… this is unfortunate and it leads to them turning a deaf ear to anything labeled history for life.

    If we could make history as exciting to kids as it is for people like myself I think it would do so much good for students but my co-worker insisted that it would never happen for political reasons.

    Thanks so much for writing this (and get out of my head) I will have to send my readers here to check it out!

    1. Great minds think similarly. Lol! Excellent response. Yes, a better understanding of history will require people to have a stronger definition of what history means. Studying history can really be fun. When people begin to understand that they can participate in uncovering history, they will see how exciting reading and studying history can be. Much of the “history” students read and study in many American schools is not history at all: it’s propaganda. Political factors will, as you co-worker contends, prevent a true exploration of history, especially American History, from happening.

  2. Great post again, sir. I love history, maybe because I love politics and that indeed coincides with the two. I do find myself reading about past Presidents and what they did in terms of their agendas. I came away with the thought, that the best President that was good for African-Americans was LBJ. Since then, we haven’t really had a President that pushed legislation that benefited “us” tremendously, and lot of people think Bill Clinton was our savior, but when you analyze his policies, it is quite the opposite.

    I just started a book that was written by director Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick called ‘The Untold History of the United States’, which is also a series – don’t remember what channel it is airing on, nevertheless. It gives a vary different take on history and what truly went down from War World I, the bombing on Hiroshima to the very present, etc. So far it is a great read, and it makes you think!

    1. Thank you! LBJ was truly one of those meaningful Presidents. What he did has a lasting impact on America. We can follow his example when it comes to this current gun control/gun law national discourse that’s taking place. He wanted all guns to be registered, licensed, and want it to be publicly revealed where gun owners live. I will have to check out the book you mentioned. You are right: Clinton’s policies were not beneficial to African Americans. The media and Clinton himself have done a great job of making it appear like his policies were tremendously beneficial to African Americans.

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