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Why is it important to study the past?

September 5, 2020

Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, said, "We are not makers of history. We are made by history."

In academia, no work of art, literature, or science is created in a vacuum, for one cannot ignore the impact of historical situations. For example, reading Charles Dickens’ “Hard Times” in the present is akin to understanding the socio-economic condition during Victorian industrial England. The industrialization in England led to a major cultural shift to create the present-day society there. Similarly, despite the timeless and universal themes of Shakespeare, the playwright was more of a product of his environment, which one can now study to understand Elizabethan England.

Historicization does not necessarily mean looking at the socio-economic-political-cultural background of the topic, but exploring one’s own ways of thinking and perspective from the present context. For example, the clamour for women’s suffrage first began in 1893, when New Zealand became the world's first self-governing nation to allow women to vote in parliamentary polls. If viewed from today’s perspective, despite over a hundred years of history of the struggle for suffrage, women’s rights are still being breached in various societies of the world today.

Studying and learning from the past, therefore, contributes to a well-meaning society, as one learns from serious misjudgements and past mistakes. For instance, the United Nations was formed — after the world was brought down to its knees after World War II — to prevent another conflict, promote international cooperation, and keep world peace.

Studying the past is an inevitable part of a better present and future.

Rashmi Chouhan, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication (USLM)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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