The Importance of Historical Knowledge: Quotes About Studying and Understanding History

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The Importance of Historical Knowledge: Quotes About Studying and Understanding HistoryWhile history does not repeat, knowing more about history makes it easier to understand the present as well as the future. There is a reason that kings and philosophers alike have sought to understand both the events of the past and how they have historically been interpreted – because there is no better way to obtain insight about human behavior.

Knowing about history enriches a person and makes them more well-rounded. This alone gives it a value beyond any other. It is simply a virtue to have more knowledge about the past than it is to not, no matter what we choose to do with it.

Fortunately, unlike calculus or biochemistry, history is not only immensely pleasurable, but also terribly easy to learn. One need only read about subjects that interest them by authors who excite their imagination.

Rome was not built in a day and neither will your knowledge of history. But learning a little at a time will lead to the historical knowledge important to understand where we are and where we’re headed.

The following quotes express just how important it is for people to study history.

Brian Miller
Curated by
Brian Miller

“It is useful to remember that history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As a person deprived of memory becomes disorientated and lost, not knowing where they have been or where they are going , so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future.”

“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future. There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”

“In this regard I plead guilty to the classical notion—more or less continuous from Herodotus and Thucydides to the close of the nineteenth century—of the primacy of military history. In theory, of course, all events have equal historical importance—the creation of a women’s school in nineteenth-century America, the introduction of the stirrup, the domestication of the chicken, or the introduction of the necktie. And such social or cultural developments, whether they are dramatic or piecemeal, do on occasion change the lives of millions. Yet in reality, all actions are still not so equal. We perhaps need to recall the more traditional definitions of the craft of history—a formal record of past events that are notable or worthy of remembrance. Whereas I Love Lucy might have transformed the way thousands of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s saw suburban life, women’s roles, or Cubans, it still did not alter the United States in the manner of a Yorktown, Gettysburg, or Tet—in creating, preserving, or almost losing an entire society. It was an event of the past, but not necessarily either notable or worthy of remembrance or commemoration.”

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” - George Orwell

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

“Historically, there is no West before the Greeks. Even in Greece before the 7th-century you had the Dark Ages and the Mycenaeans who are not Western in the sense as we know it. This idea of what is consensual government? What's capitalism? What's freedom? What's individualism? What's secularism? All of these ideas were not only apparent in Greece but they were discussed, and the contradictions of them.”

“Is it good to have democracy? Is it good to dumb culture down to the lowest common denominator? Is it good to have religion as a state religion or as a coercive mechanism to instill good behavior? All of these things that we wrestle with today were discussed by people who in some ways were not confused by technology, they were empirical. They just wrote down the world that they saw.”

“I thought that the message had been lost. They (the Greeks) had this, as I said, this tragic view of the world. That we all die, we all grow old. It wasn't "old age is the golden years" or it wasn't "Isn't this wonderful that if you have a divorce or you have a death in the family we can learn from this" talk.  No. It was bad and so there was an honesty in expression and appreciation about tenuous life was and how appreciative you should be to have shelter and food.”

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” - Winston Churchill

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

“I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” - Edmund Burke

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

“That America is an exceptional nation is unclear only to one who has not been taught its true history. It ceases to be exceptional only when its representative leaders cease to be exceptional. America, it has been said, is a nation of laws, not of men. The more it becomes a nation of men, the less it remains America.”

“History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.”

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.”

“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.” - Harry Truman

“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

“A generation which ignores history has no past – and no future.”

“A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.”

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” - Søren Kierkegaard

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

“The relationship between you and history is this: When you study history, you think you’re studying a record of events in the past. And that’s not right. What you’re studying is the circumstances that gave rise to you as a being. And unless you understand your history in every way you possibly can, then you’re an incomplete creature. You don’t know enough to move forward.”

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.”

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.”