Why History?

The struggles, tragedies, and accomplishments of the past have always interested me.  Learning history makes us better citizens more compassion for people of other races, genders, and faiths. Understanding the motivations and pressures that different groups had to face in the past helps people move past thinking of them as just “the other.” For instance, a greater understanding of the African American community can be gained by looking at the past racist practices this community had to endure like the convict-lease system, disproportionately high imprisonment rates, and lynchings. Another example comes from one of my undergraduate classes focusing on Asian history. The professor talked to the class about the broad historical context and the very immediate reasons why the Japanese attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. This explanation did not justify or condone what the Japanese did. However, it did help characterize the Japanese as more than just the evil “other” that was inherently an enemy to the U.S. It also moves beyond the racist images, of the time, that showed Asians as ape like sub-humans. Hopefully, people can take this historical knowledge and use it to have a more just and fair outcome for the conflicts we are currently facing.

Historical thinking skills can also assist people in their everyday lives. Asking the right questions, analyzing sources, and thinking about bias does not just help when doing research for class. These skills have many advantages in real life situations like conducting research in order to pick out a school, buy a house, or vote for the most worthy politician. More broadly, history has an important role to play in giving more context to the present political debates. If historians do not share their knowledge this space will be filled by people who may have their own agenda and do not have as much training working with primary and secondary sources. History also interests me because it deals with real life in all its shades of grey. Most of the time, there are no purely right or wrong answers in history; the actions of people and the causes of events are always up for debate. This is why, as a student, I thoroughly enjoy listening to different points of view, even if I disagree, because they help me to broaden my understanding of the subject matter.

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