These days, not a lot of people seem to be interested in history anymore. Many see it as events that have already happened and therefore have nothing to do with our lives now. We have evolved beyond that, or so they say. Of course, when you look at history, you can see that this is not true. It is often said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. And this sentence is completely correct. The fundamentals of human nature have always remained the same throughout history, we are the same people who have fought religious wars in Europe, or who were indoctrinated with antisemitism by the Nazis. The only thing that changes in history is the context of events, but these fundamentals remain the same. What this means is that we can learn tons of valuable lessons from history that can still be applied to today's world. Same fundamentals, just a different context. Let's look at 4 of the main reasons why learning from history is so incredibly important.
"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of the lessons that history has to teach us." ~ Aldous Huxley
History gives us a more accurate perspective of today's world
A counterargument often given when someone tells you that studying history is important, is that it already happened, so why would you care? Often people are ignorant to the fact that history can tell us something about the present. It can give us a better perspective on how the world today works.
If you want to truly understand why things are the way they are now, you need to know how they came to be. There’s always a reason for things to turn into what they are, and the only way you’re going to find that reason is to look at what it was, and see what events caused it to be what it is today. By studying history, you study how things were and how they evolved into what they are now. You study for example the Roman Empire, how that came to be, and then you go into later European societies where you can notice that this way of living has simply evolved from the Roman Empire. You can’t understand modern-day Europe without understanding the Roman Empire, and you can’t understand the present without understanding the past.
As an example, if you want to understand the Russia-Ukraine conflict better, look at the history of Russia. A country that has been invaded throughout its thousand-year history multiple times, with ruinous consequences. It doesn’t want to be invaded again, and so when NATO decides to expand up until the Russian borders with Ukraine, Russia sees this as a threat of possible invasion and decides to strike back. Not out of an act of aggression, but more out of an act of defense. While this doesn’t justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it does give you a better understanding of why it happened.
Teaches you about psychology and self-mastery
Essentially, history is people just doing things. But underneath their actions, there is always a reason for people to do things. This is where their psychology comes in. People always act based on their psychological makeup, and this psychology of people hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last few thousand years. We are essentially the same humans with the same brains as those who lived 3000 years ago, only living in a different period. This means we can learn a lot about how humans work from looking at history, with a perspective that will still be relevant to humans today.
The only way you’re really going to learn about how people work, is to observe those people, what they did and how, and then look at the reasons behind those actions. Look at their motives, their background, how they thought, and how they acted on those thoughts. Learn why people do things from people who did the deeds, and analyze what happened and why.
For example, looking at the French Revolution, you can see what happens to people in periods of uncertainty and chaos. Thousands of heads were chopped off, mostly out of power hunger, and paranoia. So how did this paranoia come to be? Mainly because the first rulers, the King and Queen, were already decapitated, and the people in charge believed they could meet a similar faith. So what they did is they cut the heads off of all possible opposition in the hopes that theirs wouldn’t be, which eventually, of course, happened either way.
There's always a reason for people to do things, and this reason often lies in their psychology.
You can also learn a lot about how to become the best version of yourself by learning from other people throughout history. You can learn about human achievement, and how it is done, by looking at the people who did it and who they were. Then you can emulate the qualities that these people had for yourself and become a little more like them. This helps you to learn about how to become a better person much faster and without many of the trials and tribulations that these people had to go through.
Take, for example, Theodore Roosevelt. You can learn from someone like him how he became who he became, what drove him, and what qualities made him so successful. Then there may be something you can emulate from him and apply it to your own life.
Take Abraham Lincoln as an example of patience, when he had written a letter in anger when something didn’t go well, he would put it in his drawer and wait before sending it, then later on when he was calm again, he’d review it and write a totally different letter, a much better one.
Or Winston Churchill, who showed tons of courage throughout his life, fighting in multiple wars, and showing courage in dire times in WW2 when the people needed it most.
There is so much you can learn from history's greatest figures. You can learn tiny bits about life from all of them, which you can emulate to become a better person.
“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft” ~ Winston Churchill
Learn from past failures and successes
History is full of stories of failed and successful attempts at anything you can possibly imagine. The French Revolution, for example, failed, meanwhile, the American Revolution succeeded. Studying the history of these types of events lets you learn from them. You can learn from the successes and failures, why did it fail or succeed, what were the reasons for it, and how would we apply these lessons today.
By looking at what went wrong in history, you can make sure to avoid making the same mistakes that others made. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Events often occur in patterns throughout history, with the fundamentals of human nature almost always being the same, but only the context in which the events are taking place changing. What this means is that history is full of patterns, which if we recognize them, we can see where they will lead to. If you have knowledge of certain periods in history, then you can apply this knowledge to the present day, and recognize similarities between this period and some other periods in history. There are for example lots of comparisons to draw between the tensions rising now and the period before the French Revolution or the period of the Weimar Republic. Although the future can’t be predicted and history never really repeats itself, we can draw comparisons and make more accurate predictions about what our future may look like.
But in the same way, you can also learn from the successes in history. You can look at the successes of historic figures, what adversities they had to face, and how they overcame them, and you can learn of events that proved successful like the American Revolution or the victory over Nazi Germany. Learning from history involves learning from its successes and failures, and then applying these lessons to see what we could do better in the present.
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Learning about history, besides all of the advantages it gives you in understanding the world, becoming a better person, and learning from successes and failures, is also a simple sign to show respect and gratitude to the people who made our existence possible. There have been people who suffered through the greatest adversities, who did the seemingly impossible, and who gave up and sacrificed so much for what we have today. In a way, the least you can do to show that you appreciate what these people have done for us is to learn about what they did, to remember it, and to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes of history that they have fought to rectify.
Take the American slave trade for example, something that was abolished in 1860, but not without facing adversity. It’s easy for us now to live in a world without slavery (at least in the West), but we need to remember that these things are not as self-evident as they seem to us. Not being a slave, living in a world where you can rise based on merit instead of birth, are relatively new, and have had to be fought over. The French organized an entire revolution over meritocracy which took the lives of numerous amounts of people, as did the Americans fight a bloody civil war over the abolishment of slavery.
It’s disrespectful and shows ingratitude for us to simply take all of these things for granted if we see how people in history had to suffer so much for us to live like this. The least we can do is learn about them, keep their spirits alive in a way, and remember what they did.
Soldiers getting of their boats during the landings of D-day 1944