To understand what is meant by History it is important to understand the difference between the past and History and appreciate why History is important to our lives today.
What is the Past?
The past is any time before now. It can be millions of years ago, last week or even one minute ago. The people of the past existed in their own time and this cannot be changed. Similarly events from the past cannot be moved to a different time.
What is History?
The English word history is derived from the medieval word historie which means to learn by inquiry.
Learning by inquiry is what historians do. They look at evidence from the past and ask questions of it to find out answers. They then record their findings by writing articles, papers and books.
History therefore is an understanding of the past reached by examining evidence from earlier times, interpreting what that evidence is telling us and reaching conclusions.
Unlike the past, history can change or be revised as new evidence is found, alternative interpretations are made or different conclusions reached. Additionally, successive generations of historians will look at the past in the light of the standards and values of his or her time.
Different historians and have their own viewpoints and will often present interpretations of the facts that suit their own purposes. In Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler ordered the destruction of books and papers that did not show Germany in the way he wanted it remembered. Historian EH Carr suggests that you should “study the historian before you begin to study the facts”.
Why is History Important?
History is important because it can help to shape the present. The lessons learned from history should prevent the same mistakes being made again. As philosopher George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If you overslept and were late for work because you didn’t set an alarm, you would almost certainly remember to set one in the future.
Often things that happened in the past are responsible for the things that happen today. We now know that the Industrial Revolution and high use of fossil fuels is a strong contributor to Global Warming.
An understanding of history also helps to make sense of ourselves and shape our own identity. It can also inspire us to achieve in the future. The Apollo Moon landing of 1969 inspired many young people to become astronauts.
Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). History Explained. Available: https://www.historykeyskills.com/history-explained/. Last accessed March 3rd, 2021