The Benefits of Learning History
Why We Learn History
Knowing the Origins
History tells us how things started, which helps us learn how they may end up and where we are now: it sheds light on both future and present, connecting all three parts of time.
We can better understand the present and predict the future by tracking our origins, and comparing past patterns with present and future ones. There are timeless rules connecting such patterns, making them repeated throughout history, that we can apply to any past, present or future time, to better understand it. When history is recorded, it has the advantage of being easily analyzed and understood, more than the present or future that we are yet to record and analyze.
Avoiding Past Mistakes
We won't take a wrong route others had taken before, and we will change the one we are on now if it is wrong, and start looking for alternatives. We won't go back to wars, superstitions, injustices, or primitive instincts to live only by. Rather, we will cherish life more and use reason more, to make life better.
Living a Different Present
We won't repeat history. We will try new things not tried before. We will stretch our lifespan to live more than one life, in one life. Our thoughts, plans and actions will change, as well as our dreams: we will plan for and dream of a different future to look forward to.
Completing Past Work
We should finish the work our ancestors had started. Many good works need long attention and time before they bear fruit. But the farmer may die in the process of sowing the seeds, watering the plant, or just before harvest time. If he did his part, we should do ours. We learn where our ancestors ended and we start from there, neither before nor after.
Realizing Past Dreams
When nothing could be done, they dreamed. They dreamed about a better future, that happens to be our present. It's time their dreams became a reality, since we have more tools they may not have even dreamed of. It's a shame to have great ideas and sufficient tools but no actions!
Learning Old Survival Strategies
With the little knowledge they had they managed to do many things, surviving in the harshest circumstances. We should learn those old strategies that we need sometimes, when technology/civilization fails us or is not available:
Reclaiming Lost Advantages
Although the present is generally better, the past is better sometimes. The ancients' life had many advantages over ours:
Bonding with Ancestors
Those who lived in the past are our ancestors who gave us the life we now have. They worked and suffered to keep life going and to make the world livable for them and their successors. Historical records, genealogy and DNA can help us trace our roots back; but even without them, we are certain there is someone, somewhere, whose name we may not know, in every century and historical era, who passed life to us: one of our many distant grandparents. If we happen to meet him/her, even in records, we may be amazed how similar our looks, behavior and characters are.
They still live with us by the legacy they left us. Every action they took is still having an eternal ripple effect, we may or may not see. They are dead now, as we will be later, joining them and becoming members of the "dead majority," while leaving the living minority to have its share of life. Learning history helps us accept death as part of life.
When we study history we travel to a whole different era with characteristics different from ours, giving it its unique character that cannot exist at any other time or place, made up by such combination of unique clothes, foods, arts, music, literature, traditions, holidays, social structure, etc. Mind travel is both useful and pleasurable, mentally and psychologically. Traveling to a near place or time is not as powerful an experience as that to a distant one.
They accepted and enjoyed a life mostly difficult and primitive, compared to ours. So we learn to accept our life, that is better by comparison.
Where to Learn History
Books are the place to learn about history. Without writing, most history would've been lost. Although we enjoy visiting old places, what we learn from them, or any other medium, is meager compared to what we learn from books.
They can be old monuments, architecture, scrolls, traditions, arts, crafts, tools, etc. Some countries are rich in relics; some aren't. Some value, protect and revive history; some don't. Physical relics help imagination, reviving a dead past, like a 3-D book you live in. However, what matters most is the "records of ideas" describing how previous lives existed. When such are lost, as in the destruction of libraries, centuries of civilization have to be repeated again, after being effaced by accidents or savages. Unfortunately, savages still exist, in great numbers, as well as accidents.
Old people have witnessed parts of modern history that other age groups haven't lived or seen. They are "living" history books with firsthand experiences no book has. Thus, they should be treated respectfully, and thoughtfully, to get the best of them. (Not to mention because they are humans sharing life with us, whom we owe that life.)
Being backward is an "advantage" in some contexts, such as learning history, inspiring historians and anthropologists, just as fossils inspire paleontologists. If you want to travel to the past, to see what life was like, visit a backward country! Still, any place on Earth can be backward, whenever it misses technology, lacking electricity, water supply, transport, phones, computers, etc., permanently or temporarily: when we have a power outage or get disconnected, the computer/car/phone/fridge is not working, etc., we resort to history, living as our ancestors lived.
Any human can be backward, involuntarily, by accident, disability, illness, poverty, etc.; or voluntarily, by giving up reasoning. The poor, sick and disabled deal with a challenging life now, similar to that in the past of the average person.
When we study animals we get in contact with our origins: we travel back in "natural" history, before we had evolved. We watch animals quarrel over food, mates, territory, family, herd members ... then we realize we were/are not so different.
Like our predecessors, we still have the same body with the same senses and limits. It may transform someday in the future, e.g. by biotechnology. But until then, like the ancients, we will keep eating, mating, loving, hating, laughing, crying ... and dying.
As we get old, years and years separate us from our past that, as we look back, looks strikingly different. We notice how life, society, technology, science ... and ourselves have changed, from what they were in that historical "era" we had lived early in our life. We still carry those early years with us wherever we go, like a history book we go back to whenever the present is not as good as it was. History is part of us, as we will be part of history.