Why Study History?

You can’t solve the problems of the present without understanding the patterns of the past. We make faulty assumptions when we don’t consider historical causes, and those assumptions can lead us to make decisions that have damaging consequences. As James Baldwin wrote, “Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

The internet has completely changed the skills that historians need to develop. Not too long ago, historians were masters of facts. People looked to us as experts on what had “really” happened, and our ability to remember dates truly counted. Now, everyone has data at their fingertips. Historians in the 21st century have the luxury of being able to spend their energies selecting  sources of credible information and analyzing them; instead of memorizing, we draw connections between incidents and establish context.

The internet has freed up historians’ brain space for what the Chronicle of Higher Education calls “Systems Thinking.” Philip D.  Gardner says that “systems thinking is a key attribute to the ‘T-shaped professional’ — the employee who has depth of knowledge in a particular expertise as well as the ability to work and communicate across disciplines.” Joseph E. Aoun asserts that “Systems thinking is a critical cognitive capacity for anyone in a position of leadership but also anyone attempting to discover new knowledge, launch a business, or create something original.” (Scott Carlson, “A New Liberal Art: How Systems Thinking Prepares Students for a Complex World,” September 29, 2017).  Every modern workplace values employees who conduct responsible research, place ideas or incidents into context and effectively communicate their findings. The study of history provides you with those skills.