November 2, 2015 by Mel
There seems to be a general consensus that the study of history is important because if we learn from the mistakes of the past we wont make those same mistakes in the future. This may or may not be true; but is that really the reason that individuals choose to study history? Unless, as individuals, we have a keen interest in becoming involved in politics, what past mistakes do we think we will have an active role in preventing? Of course we can learn the potential harm that could come from not placing our ‘X’ next to the right political party when electing a new government but this is not reason enough to study history in depth.
One thing that the study of history gives to every individual, regardless of our area of historical interest, is an awareness of our inevitable mortality. Of course, we are aware that our time in this mortal coil is limited, but how often do we actually perceive ourselves as just a small mention in the story of life? It is natural to view ourselves as the centre of the (our) universe, but the study of history changes that – for everyone we read about, whether an Anglo-Saxon woman tending her sick child or a man ushering his family into an Anderson shelter during the Blitz, was us. Not ‘us’ in the literal sense (that would be either absurd or related to some Pantheistic belief system) but ‘us’ in the sense that they were people who lived and died. They were probably raised and loved by someone, had hopes, desires, fears, and like us, thought that death was something that happened to other people. But, in reading the story of all these people, who inevitably died, we can see that although our lives are rich with experience, one day we too will no longer be having any of these experiences. Perhaps our individual life will be interesting or important enough for a future ‘us’ to want to read about it – but probably not. The future ‘us’ will read about the society we were a part of and maybe they will feel a similar sense of revelation about their mortality and how, rather than being of individual importance, we are part of a larger living thing called humanity. Our personal influence, via our offspring and actions make a minute impact in history but as part of the society we belong to we are immortal.
The study of history is important but not only to prevent past mistakes reoccurring. History is constantly writing our lives on its many pages and to be aware of that is sometimes terrifying but also both humbling and comforting. We are not alone.