Why Study History?


David O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief

Over the course of my time in college, people have often asked me why I study history. Everyone has heard the age-old question, “why should we care about what happened to a bunch of people I do not care about over a hundred years ago?!” The simple answer is, you cannot understand the present without understanding the past. Whether it’s medicine, politics, economic theories, etc., the context surrounding these topics often plays a much larger role in them than we can even imagine. We cannot understand the United Nations without understanding the calamity of the early 20th century that led to its creation. We cannot understand psychology without understanding the numerous seemingly insane theories that have served as the foundation of the entire field. Studying history allows us to contextualize the world around us and helps provide us with at least somewhat of a rational understanding of the world we live in.

While one can respond to this by saying, “okay but we can just briefly go over the context of these topics and then spend the majority of class actually diving into them rather than focusing too much on their foundation and the context surrounding them,” and sure that is valid to an extent, as long as one only cares about a specific topic. As liberal arts educations continues to become progressively more specialized, studying topics like history allows students to explore a variety of different topics. Students who want to get a broader education can find what they may feel has been missing in their general education by taking history courses. For example, a class I took my sophomore year, “Early Middle Ages” discussed the rise of Catholic Church, the birth of Western Civilization as we know it, the rise of Islam as a world power in the middle ages, the emergence of modern science, and many more topics. The course allowed me to learn a great deal about a variety of topics that I never even thought about prior.

Additionally, people often argue that people should only study history if they want to become teachers. This is simply not true. Studies show that only 18% of history majors actually pursue a career in education (historians.org). The writing and analytic skills developed by history majors through their broad education allows them to be a part of numerous different professional fields ranging from business to law to the nonprofit sector. 

So for anyone who is convinced at all or at the very least interested in learning more about history, do not allow anyone to make you feel like it is a waste. Studying history allows us to foster a deeper understanding about the things we care about as well as learn about things we never knew we were interested in. Take a course in the history department next semester, explore new topics that you may not have ever thought about before, and most importantly do not worry about whether or not taking a history class is valuable or not, since understanding the past is bound to help you in the present. For students interested in taking a history course next semester, I cannot help but recommend taking a class with Lyman Stebbins and/or Barbara Allen. For the Spring 23’ semester, Dr. Stebbins will be offering a course on Iranian history and Dr. Allen will be offering a course on the Holocaust.

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