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Why Study History?

January 10, 2013

As a graduate student of history, I am busy researching the middle ages, what happened then, who did it happen to and what effect did this have. With the current cuts in funding to all arts subjects, the question ‘Why study the arts?’ is becoming more and more frequent. I am asked regularly, ‘Why bother studying history, what use is it going to be?’ If you are looking into studying history, it is a question you are going to have to answer, if you go for an interview and during your studies.

So, why do we study history?

1. It needs to be remembered.

There are great parts to history, things that are really enjoyable to learn about, but there are also some grim times that have passed. The Black Death, colonialism, the plague of 1665, the Holocaust, wars, death and destruction are all examples of this. But, that shouldn’t deter us, in fact it should motivate us, these things need to be remembered, so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and so those who died did not do so needlessly.

2. It is who we are.

People like to have an identity, some know very clearly who they are and that is because of where they have come from. It is interesting when watching programmes on family history how many people can relate to their ancestors. I certainly can, it turns out that my great grandfather ran a sweet shop, which would explain my sweet tooth! Part of this identity is national, and to know the history of your own country helps with this, and makes you who you are today.

3. Understanding.

Learning about the history of a particular country, race or religion helps us to learn who those people are today. A big part of history is cultural, and to know someone else’s past can help with understanding their cultures and the way they live. In our multicultural countries, this is important, so we can all get along (I know it sounds idealistic, but hopefully one day it will be true).

4. Gaining skills.

Most history students, if they pay attention and work, will come out of their degree, whether it is undergraduate, masters, or PhD with a skill set that can be applied to many jobs. This actually makes us quite a catch to employers, there is a huge range of careers history graduates can pursue, publishing, researching, academia, journalism, charity work, the list is endless. By studying history you will learn how to read well, research well and write well, of course there are many other skills but I can’t go through them all now.

5. It’s fun!

Yes, a main part of studying history for me is that I enjoy it! I know the job prospects are limited at the end, but I hope that I will be able to do something I like instead of being bored and miserable for the rest of my life. For me, there is no point in doing something I don’t enjoy; my grades from school demonstrate this very well. I did well in my arty subjects, Religious Studies and Sociology, and I did very poorly indeed at the science classes I took.

There you have it, if you were wondering why us history nerds study the past, here are 5 good reasons. If you want to become a history student, maybe I have inspired you (wishful thinking). And if you simply wanted to know why history is an important class to take, now you know.

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One Comment
  1. Great Post! As a history professor, I have to answer this question often, in response to both students and their parents. I stress your point #4 above all: studies show that most people in the future will have several careers, not just one, so they need transferable skills, and history training provides these more so than many other majors.

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