Why Read History?

Well, Brain, above, gives us one reason.  I think Cicero gives us a better one:


Nor, while he is acquainted with the divine order of nature, would I have him ignorant of human affairs. He should understand the civil law, which is needed daily in practice in the courts of law. What is more disgraceful than to attempt to plead in legal and civil disputes when ignorant of the statutes and the civil law? He should also be acquainted with the history of the events of past ages, particularly, of course, of our state, but also of imperial nations and famous kings; here our task has been lightened by the labour of our friend Atticus, who has comprised in one book the record of seven hundred years, keeping the chronology definite and omitting no important event. To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?

Cicero, Orator


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  1. I remember my year at Patheos, how many who commented would swipe away any appeal to the past for just about any reason. But then they also tended to swipe away concern about the future, so there you go.

  2. “…To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
    I was gonna point out what a great quote this is until Don made that “blood” remark.
    Both very good

  3. One caveat only: “History is a preceptor of prudence, not a teacher of wisdom.” (Burke). It shows what happened, but not what could have been or can be. People can be trapped by their history if they know nothing else and obsess about the past. Of course, that is not the error of the present generation.

  4. I read history out of curiosity. One of my themes was how did Custer get it? nobody knows for sure. Another was military religious orders in the Crusades. That was 20 years ago.

    Several problems with “reading’ history include projecting post-modern morals, motivations, norms on totally different times and world views. Another is subverting history to promote contemporary prejudices on race, gender, sexuality, etc. which leads to “Western Civilization is the source and sum of all evil.”

  5. “History is bunk”
    –Thomas Edison
    “Bunk, debunk, then rebunk”
    –Robert Louis Benson, Professor of Medieval History , UCLA (anecdote shared by my thesis advisor back in the day –RLB’s advice on how to write history)

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