There is a broad and enduring interest in history, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all modern nations encourage it’s teaching. Yet, it is a subject that some students find difficult to engage with and others wonder what the point of it is. Like every subject, history is important for multiple reasons, some of which cannot be easily grasped by young students.
The study of history develops skills that can be applied to many other subjects and disciplines. These include analytical thinking, understanding the relationships between different people and events, and the ability to read and interpret primary source documents. It also teaches the student to think chronologically and logically, and to evaluate arguments based on their validity and merits. These are useful skills to have in business, social relationships, art—you name it.
Historical knowledge helps to give context for one’s life and culture. This is why many families choose to study their family history—it provides them with a sense of identity and a foundation for understanding how they and their families have changed over time while retaining a core of cohesion. Many communities and institutions do the same, studying their own histories to understand how they have developed over time while maintaining a sense of identity.
History also helps to analyse past mistakes so that they can be averted in the future. As we learn about past civil wars, for example, we can better understand why countries like Sudan and Yemen are in the predicament they’re in today and what steps might be taken to avert similar situations in the future.
Lastly, the study of history allows us to see how the human mind works. Each age has its own conception of the past, and this changes how we interpret the events that occur in it. It also shows how events have a long-term impact that can change the direction of a society over time.
However, to use history as a weapon in the culture wars is to misuse it. It is an incredibly powerful tool, but should be used with caution and in the service of a clear ideological agenda. Otherwise, it becomes a tool that promotes poor and one-dimensional understandings of the past and diminishes its utility. Fortunately, most historians understand this and are willing to reevaluate their interpretations of the past. This constant reevaluation of the past is what keeps history relevant and useful to people in their daily lives.