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In 1998, historian Peter Stearns wrote that: “People live in the present. They plan for, and worry about, the future. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been?”
And he isn’t alone in asking this question. With so much to worry about, and so many advances in technology, communication, and data storage, it’s natural to question why we should engage with – or even be interested in – the past.
But people have been fascinated about the people and events that came before for, well, all of human history. While the first recorded Greek history dates back to the time of the First Olympiad, or 776BC, people were writing about and preserving knowledge long before that. The Greeks and Romans were masters of writing their own history, and their elaborate accounts eventually gave way to the increasingly sophisticated methods adopted in the Medieval (manuscript) and Early Modern (print) periods.
Today, history as a discipline demands greater evidence and less bias than ever before. We have diversified our interests away from the study of the great and the good, instead focusing on grass-roots history, history from below, gender history, black history, and every other kind of history you can think of. We are lending our voices to those in the past, and we are learning more about ourselves and where we came from in the process.
These quotes are all about exploring our history: finding out what history really is, what it means to us as people, what we can learn from it, and what studying history is all about.
Quotes About What History Is
We’ve just talked a little bit about what the practice and discipline of history is, but defining history has been a subject that many people have weighed in on. From scholars and writers to politicians and inventors, everyone has a differing opinion on why the past is relevant, and what the study of history is.
The dictionary defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs” or “a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events.” As a historian myself, I’d argue that history is much more than that! But I’ll let you decide for yourself while you read these quotes that discuss what history really is.
Quotes About People in History
When we think about history, we don’t just think broadly about the past. We focus in on specific events and specific people.
Arguably, the study of history is the study of people: a series of influential, significant figures who shape the way we see different phases of the past. From politicians to religious leaders, notable orators and leading chroniclers, these figures didn’t just have a significant impact on the way people during their time thought about and experienced the world.
Whether we’re talking about Leonardo da Vinci or Lord Byron, Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King Jr., these historical figures still play an incredibly important role in shaping way we think about the events, movements, and changes that happened in the past.
Quotes About Learning From History
You might’ve heard the old saying that goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. And history shows us that, in a lot of ways, this is true.
However, there are many other valuable lessons that we can learn from studying history, whether our own or the history of somewhere, or someone, entirely different. When we become familiar with different cultures we grow in respect for its rituals and traditions, however far removed they are from our own. When we engage with the past, we are able to consider how far we have come and how fortunate we are to live as we do.
Whether you use them to reflect on the past or be grateful for the present, these quotes are all about learning from history.
Quotes about Writing History
There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in history. From an elementary school obsession with Ancient Egypt to completing a PhD in Renaissance history, my thirst for knowledge about the past has always been an important aspect of my personality.
Many historians will tell you the same thing. And yet, the study of history is in decline. In late 2018, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that history has been declining more rapidly than any other major in the last decade, even as more and more students attend college. Children in Britain are in danger of losing their ability to interpret the past, as history lessons at school level are increasingly pushed out of the curriculum.
Losing our interest in, and grip on, the past shouldn’t even be a consideration today! With resources and collections of artefacts, books, manuscripts, and images increasingly available online, it is easier than ever before to engage with the past. Whatever you are interested in, I hope that these quotes about writing history inspire you to learn more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this huge collection of history quotes. What is your favorite thing about studying the past? Share it with us in the comments!