Rarely do I meet a person that actually understands why we have to engage ourselves in the study of the past. There is perhaps no single correct answer. In fact, it is so plural, fluid and complex it would be more appropriate to say that there is simply no singular truth. So why do we study history?
To Understand Ourselves.
Most historians and those who teach history know what I mean. I think there is certainly a personal connection between the history that we study and ourselves. I know I have tried to connect myself to the people I have studied and that I study. But really what do I mean?
I want to say that when we try to study history, beside the obvious interest we invest, we also have this incessant need to find ourselves in the topics we study. Whether it is our origins or just our ability to find ourselves in historical figures and locations, the point is that we are constantly looking for something.
What is it? Humanism. History is the intrinsic study of humanism, humanity and human relations. You might think: Wait, isn’t that sociology? Well, yes it is. But history is also the same thing. The difference is that history studies the past humanism that in fact influenced today’s humanity.
I for one find myself in the study of others. It might just empathy or it might be just fascination. I dare say that studying history is not that different from watching deplorable kitsch reality TV. The former is far superior than the latter, but they both have one thing in common: they show the way people live and have lived. Think about it for a second.
So if we understand that this is why we study history. Why don’t we realized that the narratives that come with history are not all what they seem to be. They must be reevaluated.
Thus if history is merely a constant process of reinterpretation then it can almost seem superfluous and unreal. I find that in it is the most important thing, as in order to interpret our current positions as where we stand, we should dwell in the numerous reinterpretations of history.
“There are no facts, only interpretations”- Nietzsche
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 1, on June 18th, 2014.