Why do we study history (More than lets say 200 yrs ago)

I’m not being a punk trying to cause a problem, what I want to know is how can knowing what life was like in the steam ship era help us today?

I would think that almost everything has changed enough that anything we learn from ancient history would be a moot point today.

I don’t want a line about being doomed to repeat history, or a people w/o history has no past or future, etc, I want a real reason why we need to research history? ($Millions for movies doesn;t count as a good reason to research history)

Well, things like Pliny’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD provide information usable by scientists today who are interested in better understanding volcanos in order to more accurately predict their behavior.

Knowing where a food crop was first domesticated can lead scientists back to the crop’s wild ancestors, which can be a source of disease resistance or genes with other useful characters. These domestications, as a general rule, occured thousands of years ago.

Those are the first two that come to mind. I’m sure someone will think of something else.

Not to mention things like Machiavelli’s *The Prince * being a valid statement and analysis of political power valid today, or The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen being a basis for governmental ideals for a continent, or the fact that some things just keep happening over and over, and if we study them, we might be able to prevent things from going all pear-shaped next time, or…well, you get the idea.

My guess is that Studioworks is:

a. currently in school (high school would be my guess)

b. failing History.


Well, for a start, you might learn that the “steam ship era” was much more recent than 200 years ago.

More to the point, how about politics? History is the only real indicator of what does and doesn’t ‘work’ in politics - you look at what other governments have done and you take your lessons from them. The US gained its independence and its Constitution more than 200 years ago, and the systems that it is based on are far older. The authors of the US Constitution, indeed any consititution, are guided by the events of history, so they can see a few good events and techniques they would like to emulate, and a whole lot of examples of how not to govern.

Tell us, what do you do for a living? What kind of things are you into? I’m sure that history, even very ancient history, is of use to you in many ways, and would like to tailor the examples to suit you…

I would think by now they would be extinct like the aurochs. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but is Pliny’s account of the eruption detailed enough that modern volcanologists can learn something from it?

It is interesting in its own right and that is very often good enough justification to study it - it doesn’t have to be ‘useful’ in any pre-defined practical sense (although it doesn’t harm when this is the case).

But also, on a personal level, you can’t really decide whether something is useless until you know what it is; by examining it, you are taking a gamble that might not pay off if it all turns out to be worthless, but dismissing it unexamined is not the converse bet, because there is no corresponding possibility of a ‘win’.

Nope. Wild wheat, barley, rye, oats, millet, and many other staple crops still exist in their ancestral homelands.

Yes. His description was extremely accurate, as volcanologists discovered when mapping out past eruptions. But it’s not just his account - accounts of the eruption of Krakatoa also have provided valuable information on the extent and power of these eruptions. Data given by historical accounts - both direct and indirect - were part of the basis of evacuating the areas around both Mt. St. Helens and Pinatubo prior to their recent eruptions. These evacations saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives when the volcanos did erupt.

If you don’t know history, you can’t understand ( or fully understand ) modern geopolitics. Some things that happened one hundred years ago have a direct bearing on things happening today. What happened 300 years ago had a direct bearing on what happened one hundred years ago. And so on.

  • Tamerlane

On a personal note - it saved mine and some other’s lives during Viet Nam.

I was a combat photopher (2nd Lt) fresh from the states, and relatively fresh out of college. I was out in the bush with a squad of Marines and we were ambushed. Everybody of any rank worth noting were quickly out of action. So basically I (even though I was Army and not Marines and had no tactical training at all) was technically in charge. Because I had taken a couple of histroy courses that dealt with Greek, Roman and British battles while in college, I remember a couple of things that they did and I tried them and they worked and we held until choppers came to pull us out.

I wrote to my professors and thanked them. I also sent them my ribbons too. After all it was what they taught me that got us out of there. I had very little to do with it.

Another note - Knowing things like, Anne Bolyn had three breasts comes in handy when talking to girls when that awkard time between, “Do you come here often?” and “Your place or mine?” arrives.


Seeing that a large percentage of the problems around the world today have deep historical roots, a study of said roots in necessary if one is to have the slightest chance of understanding what the hell is going on. Some of the conflicts in the Balkans have origins that date back centuries. You can’t understand what is going on in the MidEast without knowing the Crusades. Religious conflicts in Ireland date back to before Cromwell. Etc, etc, etc.

Study hard, Grasshopper. The knowledge really is necessary. :smiley:

To begin with, I want to apologize for all the errors of grammar, syntax, agreement and spelling in my last post. I was just starting it and a reporter of mine called and said he couldn’t cover a graduation he was assigned so I had to do it so I finished the post very quickly with more errors than I think I have ever made in a single post.

Now back to the OP: I think every profession uses it in different ways, Studioworks your name implies that you have an interest in flim, which has a long and vivid history of feeding upon itself. Knowing that would help you watch what works and what doesn’t in entertainment. I mean, for heavens’ sake, people are still ripping off William Shakespeare who in his turn stole from his predessors.

Farmers study historic trends to find just what works and why. In my area in the West, many are going back to some Native American methods of farming.

Doctors have for centuries studied the ancient Greeks,and Egyptions because not all their medical secrets have been unlocked yet.

Clothing designers tap history regularly for such things as materials and designs, I am waiting for that under-the-boob look of the Minoan women to come back in style any day now.

In the military I think it is obvious that Hitler did not learn from Napolean’s errors in Russia. Nor George W. from…(but we won’t go there since this is GQ). Patton said all his battles were fought on ancient battlefields (sometimes he meant that metaphorically and sometimes literally).

Architects regularly tap the secrets and trends of the ancients when they design buildings.

Landscape designers are currently looking very seriously at things like Victorian gardens and the gardens of the Louises of France.

When I have covered court cases, I have often heard lawyers refer to English Common Law and Law of the High Seas (well, not so often with “Law of the High Seas” here in Colorado). Really, when you think about it, law is nothing but history.

According to a Chef friend of mine, he is always looking through history books to find out what previous civilizations dined on so he can steal some of their ideas.

Going back to the very practical for young men – History provided me with some pretty effective pick-up lines while in college, but then again so did Shakespeare. Actually, I periodically used to wonder if Shakespeare stole pick up lines from the Greeks and Romans. You’ve got to know Cervantes stole them from the centuries preceding him.


Y’know that’d be something that’d be really interesting to read about sometime in more detail hint hint :slight_smile:

(that is, if talking about it is okay by you)


Uh… cite? And please link to any pictures!! :wink:

I’m a big fan of history, I agree with many of the statements above that a knowledge of history is important to understanding the world today.

But on a slight side note… why do we need to understand dinosaurs? Sure, it’s nice to know why they went extinct so we can try and save ourselves, but do we really need to know how they raised their young?

Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE knowing about dinosaurs 'cuz it’s cool (in a geeky sort of way), but I can’t figure out why it’s so important. Hmmmm…

The human psyche hasn’t changed very much in the last 100,000 years or so and many behaviours extend back several million years. Thus, the interaction and behaviour of humans is going to remain fundamentally the same whether we look at the dawn of civilisation of last week. There is still jealously, ambition, rivalry, deception, love, comedy, irony and the rest of the gamut of human emotions.

This is why the bible is still such a good read 2000 years on. Not as a religious text, but as a insight into the human condition.

Because they help us understand where birds came from, for one. History, even so-called “pre-history”, is full of valuable lessons and insights. That’s why we study it.

Yes, 200 years ago was the height of the Age of Sail, and also the Age of Incredibly Silly Naval Officer’s Hats (English and French, respectively). Study history so you can laugh at the silly clothes they used to wear! :slight_smile:

Aside from all the really good answers so far, we study history because we are part of the chain of humanity, and it is deeply important that we understand our own past, and our place within the chain of humanity. It’s the same reason we do deep-space astronomy. Because the big questions to be answered are who are we, why are we here, where did we come from, and ultimately, what does the future hold.

As I get older, I find myself more and more interested in the past. This is probably natural, as the future begins to look a little less limitless than it did when I was 20. But ultimately, we learn from the past - not just to avoid mistakes our ancestors made, but also what they did right. But just as importantly, we learn who they were. That is important to us now. It’s important to know that we are part of an ongoing civilization. It gives us perspective.

I think that Ralph Waldo Emerson covered this topic quite well is his essay entitled, "History.