This is based off a speech I presented at a Pro-D Workshop, with ideas from <https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/archives/why-study-history-(1998)>.
We learn about history in schools and countless books are written about it. But historians can’t save lives like doctors, create more effective technology like engineers, or fill our pleasure time like singers and actors. While people can be attracted to history purely because of the information, most people live in the present and prepare for the future. Where does the past fit into this?
The past teaches us about people; it is a pattern of humanity’s actions and reactions. History offers us explanations and evidence for how people behave as a society. How can we understand war as a peaceful country, technological advancements, and the function of family in a community without history? We draw on the past to understand change, its factors, and how we respond to it. Only with this information are we able to deal with its effects and move forward.
In trying to reconstruct the past, we stumble across art, music, and stories of people who once lived. These sources of information can paint for us a different society and people. It also offers us new perspectives on religion, ethics, and politics.
History also gives people an identity; the feeling of being part of a larger story. Without memories, a person would lose their very identity, likewise, without history, we would lose their place in the world. The history of a country or race can bring people together. This information is very powerful in bringing about a sense of loyalty to one’s country and people, but can also lead to nationalism and racial prejudice.
Also, many courageous and intelligent men and women of history are examples for people today. These historical figures, often romanticized, give us an ideal to look up to. Sacagawea, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi; the list goes on of people who have shaken the world
So why does history matter? History is a powerful tool is bringing people together and analyzing our past and its patterns can help us make our decision for a better future. The past influences the present, and the present influences the future, so history also helps us understand the factors that lead to our world today, and how we can manipulate that to create a brighter future.