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

Here’s a very practical example, Studioworks. The United States is currently engaged in a conflict with al Qaeda, which is headed by Osama bin Laden.

bin Laden from time to time releases videos and audios that exhort Muslims to attack the U.S. and other westerners. He frequently refers to the western armies as “Crusaders” and also refers to various battles that occurred during the Crusades. Those who have analysed his statements in detail note that he keeps coming back to these themes, and uses them to explain what he’s doing and why he expects other Muslims to join him.

The Crusades were fought in the 12th and 13th centuries. By your analysis, the Crusades are irrelevant, right? Yet they’re clearly relevant to bin Laden.

I assume you will agree with me that in trying to defeat bin Laden, it is important for Americans to know his goals and objectives, and also his motives: understanding why your enemy is angry helps to predict what he’ll do and therefore helps you to defend yourself and defeat him, right?

So, if no-one in the West knew anything about the Crusades, we would lose this insight into what makes bin Laden tick and why he’s attacking the U.S. I don’t think that would be a good thing.

Regarding Anne’s breasts:

It’s actually fairly well known, though disputed.

Here’s a site that says yes:

And another:

This site says no:

Cecil seems to think they are making mountains out of molehills, or at least a mound out of a mole:

Sorry all, no pics.

Why a bunch of people believe we should study history:
(some of these are specific to certain fields)









IMHO the study of history gives us insite into understanding the dynamics of society. For me, it began with the question, how did the Emoorer Napoleon rise from the French Revolution.

How did Spain, with all the riches of the New World, and with thew finist army in Europe fall so far and so fast.

From the 30 years war I began to understand how the balance of power plays out.

Why did the Protestant countries (Netherlands, England) appear to be more economically successful than the Catholic countries?

Was Marx correct, is religion the opiate of the people?

If we do not understand the Mulim-Hindu conflict in India, we cannot understand the politics of the country with the second largest population.

What were the forces which lead to the collapse of the Russian empire.

If we do not understand the social forces propelling movements, we will be mere madmen railing against the darkness.

End of rant

OTOH, these are reasons why we SHOULD study history. I suspect WHY we do has a lot to do with people just not being able to resist learning about stuff.

Absolutely, since the Vesuvus is stil an active volcano. And Pline’s account was very detailled (actually, so detailled that until modern vulcanology entered into the picture, people didn’t believe its accounts because they involved phenomenoms which were conseidered too weird to be authentic)

On a related note, I know a couple people who are totally clueless about history, including the very basics that one learn in primary school. I often wondered how they perceived the world in their minds. I mean, it must be, for them, like it suddenly popped up into existence roughly when they were born, and I can’t wrap my mind around such a perception. I find this very intriguing, for some reason.

Plinian is even a technical term in current vulcanology. This page describes the modern understanding of what happened when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, while here are Pliny’s letters about it.
In fairness, geologists would still understand about pyroclastic flows etc. without Pliny’s account, but this is a nice example of an historical source that can be compared to the archaeological and geological evidence. What Pliny reported can be extrapolated to other eruptions.

And knowing that she didn’t have three breasts* lets you correct other posters on this board. :smiley:

Knowing she had an extra finger (fused to her pinky), would be a better choice.

*unless you count a wart as a breast.

While many posters have cited the continuity of human experience, the value of history in my life is that it highlights the discontinuity. Unfortunately, this requires a bit closer study than most history classes seem to provide.

There is a powerful tendency to characterize familiar customs or practices as “natural” or intuit “obvious” physical or practical advantages. To me, this tendency seems particularly strong in the US (though not uniquely so). It’s so strong that even our history books often contain strong -but provably incorrect- implicit assumptions that things were always, or usually, done in the past, as they are now. The small details of life, business, government, etc are particularly prone to pass unquestioned.

Learning how things were really done, and encompassing the range of actual human beliefs in our own culture, in even the fairly recent past, is truly mind-opening, which has practical value in solving problems, understanding the world, and fighting petty, often unstated, prejudices in ourselves and others.

In recent years, it has been popular to mock the prejudices of the Victorian era, and the way it colored their science and every other aspect of their understanding. I honestly feel that we won’t fare any better in the eyes of future centuries. Even many of the “traditional values” that some of our leaders are trying to turn us back to, were not the actual prevailing views and practices of the “idyllic” 1950s/60s; a study of the details of actual history can keep us from pursuing social policies based on media images of a past that never was, and to see the problems those policies actually caused in the past.

An easy way to get started is to watch PBS’s version of Reality TV, e.g. “1900 house” where a modern family lives the life of a middle to upper middle class London household, using authentic materials, machines, and practices in accord with turn-of-the-century household guides [which were very important to running a household well at the time]. The show does a good job of showing how remarkably different daily life was just a century ago, but if you think as you watch, you’ll see that the differences run even deeper, with broad implications. Other PBS shows of this type, like “colonial House” (name?) are equally instructive. I found the contrast between “Frontier House” and “1900 house” [just 20 years apart in time) to be particularly instructive – not because of the difference between life in 1900 London and 1880 Montana, but because of the similarities! (at least by our standards.

Socrates reportedly said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I tend to agree – but more importantly, those who examine their lives have a better chance of finding better choices and solutions than those who dwell in a herd-like consensus view that is, as often as not, quite mistaken on the facts.