John Catton, Campus Carrier Staff Writer
It is hard to believe it, but it is almost Christmas time again. With it comes a difficult time for history majors: the dreaded phone call update with family. So dreadful for no reason in particular, other than that we have to answer a reoccurring question: Why be a history major? What can you do with that? There is no definite answer. The usual answer is that it builds critical reading, writing and research skills are all true, but my motivation to pursue history is a little different. I believe that it is not only important to study history, it is crucial to study history in order to understand our present, and to build a better future.
It seems ironic right? Why should we learn about the past in order to understand the present? The answer lies in the idea that history is a story. It’s the story of how we as people got to where we are today. It is absolutely crucial to understand if we want to be able to understand the challenges that we as a nation face, and the challenges we face as a globe. What’s going on in places like Zimbabwe? Why are there constant conflicts in the Middle East? The answer lies in a close study of history. History is not something to bury away in books. It is something that we are surrounded by each and every day.
Issues of racism and bigotry in this country are not limited to the past. They are unquestionably part of our present. Especially as Americans, we must come to terms with our history if we will ever move forward toward the ideals of equality and freedom that we claim to hold so dearly to. It will take more than just tearing down a few confederate monuments. It will take work to educate future generations on our past. We must be content with the fact that our nation isn’t perfect, our past is not perfect, but we can have a better future if we willing to strive for it.
There is a common reference to the 19th century poet George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I love this quote and I love Santayana, but I disagree with this quote.
There is no way that our situations will be exactly the same as those in the past. The only way we can do that is through some experience like the movie “Freaky Friday” which is highly unlikely. What we can do is look at situations in the past and see how others faced them and how we can wisely apply them to our own. Personally, I believe that we as a nation are strikingly similar to what our nation was like a hundred years ago. When I see the level of income inequality, racial tensions, nationalistic and socialistic political tendencies of 1917, I see many similarities to the current situation here in 2017. It took the New Deal and two world wars to help bring social and economic change. I hope that in the future, positive change will be less dramatic.
So, to answer the question, studying history has done more for my critical thinking ability than anything else. I can think of no subject that has done more for my understanding of the world that I live in than a study of history, and I believe that we as a nation must study it. We have so much to take pride in, but we are not perfect, and we never have been perfect. But if we come to terms with our past, I believe we can reconcile a better future.