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How Well Do You Know Your History? The Impact of History on Our Lives

History, goes the common saying, is a matter of perspective.

Take Genghis Khan, for instance. History depicts him as a ruthless Mongol ruler who was renowned for his brutalities – one who led an army of savages who stopped at nothing to achieve his aim of conquering the world.

Is that the truth?

Some accounts give another picture. They state that his vision, ability to think critically, and discipline were legendary. He had one of the most organized armies in the world with clear-cut hierarchies and distinct divisions between units. And his men? They were very well-trained marksmen, combat-ready warriors, and were highly skilled wielders of bows and hand swords.

In fact, here’s an interesting truth – if it weren’t for the Mongol conquests most of the diverse technological growth in terms of literature, spreading gun powder and paper, among others, that we see in the world today would not have existed.

But how do we know all this, some 800 years later?

From different historians studying the available historical evidence that points to the truth.

So how exactly does studying history change perspectives and improve our lives? Here’s a look.

Highlights

  • What’s History?
  • The Impact of Studying History
  • Examples that Showcase History’s Importance
  • Fields Related to History
  • Opportunities for those interested in a Career
  • The Future

What do we understand by the term “history”?

Here’s a great quote by British writer Julian Barnes (from the book, The Sense of an Ending). He writes that, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”. If you haven’t read that book, we recommend you do 🙂

Coming back to the point.

History is not just limited to remembering important dates and learning passages by rote. Studying history means that we are looking to understand the various changes over time. History is not learned only through textbooks and articles. It can be multidisciplinary and is learned through analysis, data collection, archaeological evidence, tracing lineages, understanding region-specific, and general cultures, food, politics, and interpersonal relations.

The impact of studying history

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

We are usually told that we should forget the past and live in the present. However, digging up the past, quite literally, can help us understand who we were and where we came from. Historians have been changing the way we perceive our history, giving us more insights about our ancestors and what life, in general, was like many, many years ago. In fact, most of us might not even have the slightest idea about what life generally was forty or fifty years prior to our births. But why do we have to study history? There is no fixed answer to this question except that to understand where we are headed, it is important to know where we came from.

History can teach us many things – from understanding how we lived over the ages with minimal means to how modern technology evolved over time. Sometimes, the best way to understand things is to find out about their roots, and this is exactly what history does.

History helps us to:

  • Understand our world better
  • Help create identities
  • Become exposed to where we originated from, cultures, and traditions that are in place even today
  • Learn from the past to avoid mistakes tomorrow.

More importantly, obtaining knowledge for the sake of knowing is what drives most historians and history buffs.

Examples showcasing the importance of history

By understanding chronology, one can identify the progress that a particular group of people or a civilization made over the years. We can also track the progress of literature, art, culture, science, and spoken language over the course of time. We already saw an example previously that showcased another side to the history of the Mongols and Temüjin.

We look at a few notable examples from history (though there are endless ones) that showcase why learning history is important.

First with one that is timely..

  • Edward Jenner is credited with having invented the first vaccines on the planet (he is believed to have developed the first vaccine for smallpox). However, inoculations were part of everyday life much earlier than previously believed. In fact, it is now widely believed that Jenner merely improved the previously available inoculation rather than design one of his own. Various records from different countries, including ones from China, Africa, and the Middle East, show that inoculations for various diseases existed as early as 1000 A.D. Although this does not change how we perceive modern vaccines, it does help in changing our views about the scientific progress that we have made.
  • All of us use Arabic numerals for mathematical purposes. However, they were not invented by Arabs but by Indian mathematicians. This goes to show that certain regions had a lot more scholars than previously imagined, and these regions played a large role in enhancing the world culturally as well as scientifically. By recognizing the efforts of many developing nations in advancing the technology and science of today since time immemorial, political, cultural, and economic ties can be improved.
  • The importance of indigenous groups of people is sometimes overlooked in the modern world. However, history teaches us about their contributions to shaping the world as we know it. From tapping rubber for various purposes, inventing crude sunglasses to block the sun’s glare, to inventing syringes that are now among the most used medical devices, the indigenous people have been the masters of the invention for many centuries. Recognizing their efforts will be the first step towards their empowerment and protection.
  • Cleopatra and the Tesla Model S. Our perspective of the ancient Egyptian civilization is one that is slightly skewed. In fact, most of us tend to believe that civilization lasted about a couple hundred years or 1000 years at most. This belief goes hand in hand with the fact that the modern history of the “United States of America” spans close to two hundred years. However, we seem to have underestimated the actual time span of Egyptian civilization. The Egyptian civilization was spread over not one or two but over four thousand years. One chronological fact that astounds most people today is that Cleopatra, the famous queen of Egypt, lived closer to the time when Tesla’s Model S came out than she did to the time when the pyramids were being built. Cleopatra was born around 70 BC while the great pyramid of Giza was built around 2550 BC.

These are, of course, only two of the many instances where history has had an impact on our development.

Connecting different fields to history

History is related to many different fields in various capacities. These fields directly impact the history of the known world through their assertions that are formulated by various methods. A couple of those fields are discussed below.

Archaeology is a field of study that focuses on learning about the history of humans through the collection of evidence in the form of human remains, artifacts from relevant periods, architecture, and other devices. Archaeologists not only discover historical evidence but also log them accurately so that we can link contexts to artifacts. Archaeology involves the use of a lot of scientific tools and techniques to help in improving the understanding of a particular archaeological specimen. The field is considered to be a mix of both sciences as well as history.

Paleoanthropology, a subfield of anthropology, is yet another exciting field that is related to history and science which has played a vital role in helping us to understand human history and evolution. By studying paleoanthropology, we could pinpoint the origins of our bipedal apelike ancestors and the different branches they gave rise to.  It also helped us to understand that homo sapiens was just another species of the family Hominidae. Paleoanthropology unearthed facts related to how we managed to survive while the other species from our family perished. The field studies human fossils and archaeological evidence in order to paint clear pictures of what must’ve taken place in the past. For example, did you know that our teeth and jaws began to change shape as our ancestors learned how to cook food? Or that our brains began to grow bigger due to changes in our diet? These are things that one can infer from studying paleoanthropology.

Other related fields include:

  • Paleontology
  • Paleography
  • Literature
  • Historical geography
  • Bioarchaeology
  • Folklore
  • Social anthropology

Each of these fields has its own importance and impact on our world in more ways than one could imagine.

Opportunities that can kickstart a career

Gone are the days where studying history was considered to be limited to those with a background in humanities. Anyone who is interested in studying history can do so and even make a career out of it. There are many career opportunities for those looking to kickstart a career in history. Some of these are mentioned here.

  • Archaeologist
  • Historian
  • Museum Curator
  • Academician/ Lecturer
  • Researcher
  • History Writer/ Editor
  • Archivist
  • Genealogist

Having a relevant degree in history can help one to go a long way. It is also important to have a certain degree of excitement and thirst for knowledge if one is looking for a career in history.

The future of history

Studying history can have a lasting impact on our future. It helps to identify patterns and form intuitions based on what might have happened to help predict what will happen. It is high time that we accept the fact that science and history are more closely related than we imagine them to be. From practical applications to gaining personal benefits, studying history has multiple benefits. Being a student of history helps to improve skills such as analytical, communication skills, the want to be well-informed about events and use them to make decisions, the ability to assess available evidence, having an understanding of how certain things came to be, and improve one’s ability to be open to change.

Most importantly, history can help to explain who we were and where we came from, thus providing answers to some of life’s fundamental questions.

Date added
25.10.2021

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