We live in the present and are always planning for our futures. But we all have a past that we can learn from: a personal past, in which we better ourselves by examining our mistakes, and from the broader past of human history, where we are able to learn from the ideas of all of the generations that have preceded us.
This is the value of studying history. The study of history doesn’t have to be limited to that which we learn in the classroom; it is something that can become a lifelong pursuit that is constantly rewarding us with new insights and a deeper understanding of the world and the people and societies who inhabit it.
In an earlier time it was enough for someone to have a head filled with facts: that knowledge justified itself. In terms of history it was enough for someone to be able to rattle off what were generally accepted as key dates, such as the Norman conquest of England in 1066; or being able to identify Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the theory of evolution around the same time as Charles Darwin, and with Darwin co-authored the first published article on natural selection. Such knowledge was a sort of screening device that confused the possession of mere data with intelligence.
The real beauty of history, according to a more modern perspective, is its ability to show us where we came from and the reasons why, and perhaps inform the present with an understanding of the past. Alexander Potoczak of Ohio attended Hamilton College and enjoys reading about history and many other subjects.