History: Discipline, Foundation, Mold, and ComfortThe Primary Reason for Studying History: It Civilizes Us.
Inherent in the definition of history as a discipline is the thought that history is a disciplining agent on human behavior. The purpose of discipline is organization, particularly self-organization, and it is only through the lens of history that we can see clearly how to organize ourselves as civilized beings. This organization is reflected by national and sub national groupings, religious, legal, and business codes, and our relations with others (both interpersonal and international), among others. Where history has recorded the associations and dissolutions among the peoples of the earth, in addition to their discoveries, from fire to the internet, from the wheel to the rocket, these recordings have helped organize and guide humans through the incredible past several thousand years of our development.
Additional Reasons to Study History:
Understanding and Improving Ourselves and Our World
There are of course other compelling reasons to study history, as enumerated by Peter Stearns. The first, and arguably most important, according to Stearns is that history provides a basis for understanding, and ideally, living peacefully, among different peoples, although it is true that this knowledge is also used to wage wars. Through his argument on the historical study of alcoholism, Stearns also implies that it helps increase our understanding of social phenomena within our own society. The joy of studying history for its own sake is another reason Stearns touches on, which is arguably true of all disciplines. History is a tool, as well, for developing ourselves, as citizens, workers, critical thinkers, and moral beings according to Stearns. And while Stearns does not state it explicitly, the sum of his reasoning suggests the conclusion that George Santayana reached over a century ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
A Final Reason to Study History: Comfort
Finally, in addition to the use of history as a discipline, and for the many purposes Stearns suggests, there is another essential quality of history which serves a less practical but elemental purpose. History is comforting. History grounds us in uncertain times, times of rapid change and upheaval. The worried take comfort in the warm cloak of the past; the disparaged call on history to avenge them. Regardless of how much or little an individual knows of this discipline, each morsel of knowledge sustains us with the realization that as bad as things are, they have likely been as bad or worse in the past. History, really, has endless purposes, some concrete and foundational, some less so, but regardless of our purpose for studying history, it is always rewarding.
Stearns, Peter. (1998). ? American Historical Association. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from http://www.historians.org/pubs/free/WhyStudyHistory.htm
Santayana, George. (1905). The critical edition of the works of George Santayana. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from http://www.iupui.edu/~santedit/ gsantayanaquotes.html