People study history for a variety of reasons. Many feel that it’s important to know where we come from, so we can understand what we’re doing now. It’s also useful to learn about the struggles of past people, who often accomplished great things despite immense odds. Moreover, studying history is a great way to develop critical thinking skills, which are essential in any career.
Some subjects attract a spontaneous audience that needs no justification to study them; others have to be made attractive. Most of the subjects studied by students at school need to have a purpose, and that is especially true for history, which deals with human values. This means that the subject matter itself can be less concrete than, say, the sciences.
Historians have always claimed that their study is not only objective, but a means of learning how to live. However, the inescapable fact is that history does not help you to make practical decisions. It is not a skill that can be applied to the operation of bridges or the design of highways. There are other, more subtle ways in which history can be useful, and that is why it should be included in the curriculum of schools.
For example, one reason that all modern nations encourage the teaching of history is to provide a sense of identity. It is the study of how families, groups and countries came into existence and developed over time that gives a sense of unity to many. Some people also study the history of their own family in order to identify their genealogy, and that provides them with facts about the past which are more concrete than those in a textbook.
In the same way that history is an excellent vehicle for developing critical thinking, it is also valuable for its role as a source of moral strength. Whether it’s studying the stories of historical figures who struggled with and overcame moral dilemmas, or learning about how hard ordinary citizens worked to ensure their voting rights, people can gain insight into how to deal with their own personal and moral conflicts by looking at the struggles of those who have gone before them.
The most significant function of history is that it brings to light the continuity of all humanity. It is a fact that into Rome flowed all of ancient history and out of it sprang modern civilization. That is a truth which we can learn to accept only when we are able to see the whole picture of history as it has actually happened, and not as we might like it to have been.
Some people tend to view history as a discipline that is subjective because each age forms its own conception of what has gone before, and thus writes history. Consequently, there are certain historians who subscribe to the doctrine of Henri Bergson and claim that a true discourse of history must be objective. Other people believe that even if the discourse of history is biased, it will still have a validity that can be used to illuminate mankind’s relationship with the past.