“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” This quote, or some version of it, has been the long-time mantra of history teachers facing students who don’t exactly share their passion for the past. Teachers, probably since time immemorial, have held this idea in their back pocket, always at the ready for the disgruntled youth who asks, “When are we EVER going to need to know this?”
But, do you ever feel like avoiding some of the mistakes of our ancestors feels inevitable, no matter how much history you know? The more history you study, the more it can seem like a revolving door of repeating themes and events. So what’s the point?
Well, it’s time to look at studying history a bit differently: with an emphasis on skill over subject matter. Because, whether you realize it or not, when you equip yourself with a knowledge of history, you begin a journey to self-improvement. You’re not only going to pass the class, but you’re also going to become a better person, too!
Have you ever seen a news story, social media post, or been part of a conversation about a group of people you can’t seem to relate to? The road to understanding is to educate yourself on the history of that particular group, place, or movement. The more history you know, the more your skills of tolerance and empathy will grow. And, let’s be honest, the world could always use more of these. Diving into the history of something you know little about will feel daunting at first. But the reward of a widened worldview will be worth it.
Attempting to learn about the history of the world outside your own will motivate you to become a changemaker. You may have found yourself feeling like, while you’re a good person, you could be making more of a difference in the world today. But how do you start on a task like that? The answer, of course, is a study of history!
Once you’ve located a passion that speaks to you, research its past. You will find the more you know, the more you’ll care, and the more easily you’ll be able to act on your newly found passions. You can check out the United Nations’ list of issues that transcend national boundaries, or start with a cause a little closer to home.
Though you might not have realized it as you sat in your history classes over the years, those classes aimed to teach you about the groups and institutions that shape our lives. Everything from government to religion, from social strata to technological advancement, is embedded in the study of history. Therefore, knowing history can bring us clarity about the role of these institutions in our lives today.
If we can see how people of the past were shaped by political, economic, and social factors, we’ll soon see how institutions, some as old as humanity itself, are continuing to shape us in the here-and-now.
Society is a product of its past, but YOU personally are also a product of your past. Knowledge of your ancestors will give meaning to your existence and bring you closer to them. In studying your personal past, you will also gain knowledge of your ancestors’ societies. From there comes an understanding of how those societies and people set the stage for events happening today. With a knowledge of history, you’ll be more equipped to recognize the challenges of today’s world and face them head-on.
So the next time you feel like history doesn’t really interest you or isn’t worth your time, remember what it can do for you in terms of personal growth. When you’re ready to start your journey to self-improvement, check out TEL’s library of free online courses, including U.S. History I and II and World Civilizations I, to get started!