Why Study History?

Why study history? The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally "salable" skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history-that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment-is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works. - Peter Stearns

Why Study History? by Peter N. Stearns

"History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty." - Peter N. Stearns

See another essay on Why Study History? by William H. McNeill.
Why Study History? (1998)

What I Do: Stephen Aron

Stephen Aron talks to What I Do about his role as chair of the Institute for the Study of the American West, specifically how his work bridges the gap between research at universities and museums.

Read more about Stephen Aron

Directory of History Departments and Organizations

2013-14 DirectoryThe Directory is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in a comprehensive look at the history profession across the United States and Canada. Colleges, universities, and historical organizations provide annual information about their programs, faculty and staff, and specializations. Institutions can find out more about listing in the Directory here.

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Member Testimonial

I grew up in a village of 500 people in Delaware in the 1950s, and attended a segregated elementary school. I was curious about the social dynamics of this small place-how various social distinctions came to be and what they meant for the people who lived there. Eventually I realized that the best way to answer those questions was to study American history.

Jacqueline Jones on "Why Study History"