Is history still relevant today?

The teaching and writing of history will always be important, if not always appreciated, part of the human intellect. Simplistically, history is the collected sum of knowledge of the events and people that have brought us to where we are today. History tries to tell the truth about both events in time and human nature while grappling with an ever-changing body of source material and new interpretations in how history should be considered.

The history profession is at a crossroads today in my opinion. The overspecialization and unfiltered influence of the Annales school and structuralism have caused history to be overly obsessed with what I call “revisionist” history. The desire to tell history from a gender, racial, or ethnic point of view can quickly cross a line from presenting untapped points of view on historical events to proselytizing against “traditional, patriarchic, and Euro-centric” history.

In spite of this tendency, history is more important today than ever as Americans seek to understand not only our own heritage in its proper context, but the history of other civilizations and cultures that have not been well understood. History, particularly economic, political, and military history are especially important as “applied” or “practical” humanities that can be used for informed decision making by business, government, and military leaders.

Unfortunately, I don’t think historians are listened to enough, particularly in the classroom. I suspect that one of the primary reasons is a lack of understanding (or instruction) by students on WHY history is important to them. Rather than a boring collection of dates, places, people, and events, I believe history teachers must be able to explain why events such as the American Revolution, Civil War, Cold War, civil rights movement, and other events are important to people now! I believe one of the best ways to do this is to tie current events to history via a cause and effect or some other analytic method to show students how today’s news becomes tomorrow’s history.

Historians have a vital role to play in educating not only our students, but also our policy makers. Too often, decisions are made without considering what has or hasn’t worked in the past, and although there is no such thing as a perfect historical analogy, there are certainly experiences and lessons from the past that are applicable today. It is the job of historians to bring these lessons forward and place them into the proper context for decision makers today.

More to follow......