Why Study History?

“Why do we have to take this stuff? Why do we have to learn about all these dead guys (and women)? Who cares?”

By most estimates, 110 billion people have been alive. They’ve done a LOT of stuff. No one cares about everything that’s ever happened or is happening.

On the other hand, no one cares about nothing. Even the most nihilistic (someone who believes life is meaningless) person cares about something. Maybe it’s what their parents were like before they were born or how black clothing got to be cool.

So, we can agree that some things, but not all things are worth caring about.

History, as we do it in our class, is the study of things that have happened which are important to you.

They can be important for any number of reasons. Maybe they teach you something you didn’t know about yourself. Or help you discover something about how you and your family got to where you are today. Or they inspire you. Or help you connect better with a friend. Or you might just think something is cool. Any of those are good reasons to know something about the past.

If you think what you’re studying in history isn’t important, that means that either you’re studying the wrong things or you haven’t figured out how they are important to you yet. Sometimes it can take days or even years before you realize how something you learned applies to your life.

In our history class, you’ll have the freedom to choose what you want to study a lot. The rest of the time, when we study something as a class, you can be sure that I tried my best to pick something which I think will be important and interesting.

Remember though that our class has a lot of students in it. Sometimes what’s important to most of you won’t be to a few. At those times, if you’re in the few, you can try your best to understand why it’s important to other people, even if it isn’t to you. Also, you should tell me that you didn’t find it relevant. Maybe I can convince you that it is, but if I can’t, that’s important for me to know for next year too.