Why History?

I was once asked why I loved history so much; after all, what practical purpose did it serve?  A question of this nature, it seems to me, is largely self-referential, already containing, in an age-old rhetorical fashion, its own answer. What practical use is history?


Think about it: what value or 'practical use' is there in anything; why think, why act, why believe, why write? If all of our intellectual life is to be reduced to a material and utilitarian calculus, then we might as well forget about poetry, literature, music, painting and philosophy, none of which have any practical value, as well as history. Why do I study history, why do I think it is important? Because I love the subject: I have as long as I can remember, and I offer no better excuse than that.  


Maybe it serves no purpose, and maybe it really is all 'bunk', in the words of Our Ford, the great material God. I could, of course, trade history quotes for history quotes, some hostile and some favourable. My own 'leitmotiv', my guide and my recurrent theme, are the words of Gustav Flaubert, who said that Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.


So, how do I conclude this? I can only do so by making by own feelings as plain as I can, quoting the words of another writer on an unrelated subject, but pertinent, notwithstanding; And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!


Yes, God bless it. 

Constance1 Constance1
22-25, F
27 Responses Apr 6, 2009

Yeah nothing will talk about the past for new generation if we dont have History Teacher and it should be well taught for the Children tomorrow is our future and for them to love what is in the Past so they will give VALUE of what our FOREFATHERS did when they struggle in the WILDERNESS and what happen in the WARS 1&2 and all the things that we live in i guess its a very important part of ourselves to learn those things.

It certainly is.

Histroy is who we are and what makes us complete

Yes of course.

All of us are culturally the sum total of our history.History helps us to understand the very basis of the substance of our existence,do we need any more practical advantage of studying history? Had it not been for history,our civilization specially the present overtly utilitarian one, is in immediate danger of relapsing into mediavielism.

Very well said, Rasraj. Sorry for not responding sooner.

I should be studying my OU history course right now but I'm not... I guess that what bothers me that most of the academia now consider history as mere plastic... last night I saw a dreadful documentary on TV called God recreated the English, or something like it... God, I wish that they leave history alone as they should leave the spelling of the English language alone... some of today's lecturers can't even spell and teach their bad spelling to boot too... always great to chat about history though... watching an old docu called The Shock of the New on Youtube right now. Val :-)

I saw that, I think, ages ago. The title is very familiar. I'm always happy to talk about history. :-)

how far back history to you like?

All periods really, but my speciality is the politics of seventeenth century England.

i love history.. i love the dark ages.. the ancient empires.. religious including the crusades.. ancient civilisations.. all good with me lol

I love history too and I believe it serves a very important purpose. There are those who actually think History should no longer be taught in schools. But I think it is very important students today ( the future leaders) learn history. Some terrible things happened in history yes, but if people dont learn from it how can we keep history from repeating itself ? God forbid that someday there could be another Adolph Hitler. I hope that day never comes but if History is considered an insignificant subject and no longer taught in the schools, we could be raising an ignorant generation of future leaders who will continue to make all the same harmful mistakes. I also believe it is very important that todays students know where they came from and know the values that our forefathers wanted when this country was still underway. So yes I think History is very important

I'm so glad. :-)

I wished i was there when Empire of Rome was built ...To have the feeling of being there...This is history for me..Gosh!!!!!! I love History!!!!

I rated your post up 1. I like what you said very much. I also want to say seems "nostalgia" is part of our nature. I think history doesn't really serve any purpose except trying to learn from our past mistakes. Sometimes it seems we never learn. And it's quite funny to look back and be amused at how silly we were.

Yes indeed. :-)

While all sorts of things have some practical value, nothing has an ultimate, transcendent value that gives one some sort of deep, meaningful, enduring experience that endures past death. History gives me some notion of how other people feel when they suffer. That notion is pretty limited so far, which is why I keep reading history.

Thank you moreandless. We live in interesting times, and I feel sure you will understand the reference.

great post, Constance.<br />
We are living at a cross roads in history.<br />
If we don't know what lies behind us, how to choose what we'll do next?

Very well put, Ernie

History is extremely practical. It is the memory of events and energies at a strategic level. Just as remembering that fire burns, ice is cold, our address of our residence is necessary to our day to day tactical existence, so is knowing the cultural experiences that warn us against pursuing a 'free" lunch at our neighbors expense, building structures not suitable to the local area, etc. are equally important. There is a reason every government in history has highjacked the discipline to keep the masses stupid. A wise philosopher once said the job of the historian is to serve justice for the innocent. It has very real rarely applied applications.

True. :-)

when asked why history I reply "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repete it"

Your quote of Flaubert perfectly answers the question of "why history". It is why I enjoy history so much myself. I particularly enjoy 20th century history, for it has directly shaped the world in which we live today. Although I saw no practical purpose for a history degree in what I wanted to pursue for a career, I would have loved to have done a degree in history, and certainly plan to when I retire...I just wish retirement wasn't so far away! :o)

Jack, thanks. Yes, I have read a little philosophy. You are more than welcome to visit my Ana the Imp blog http://anatheimp.blogspot.com There is a lot there on my various interests. philosophy included.

This is history: The Grassland <br />
Orlando Lujan Martinez IWAA<br />
<br />
The Homestead Act has the reputation of being a benevolent government land give-away. A part of American mythology that has been romanticized in movies and history books. When in truth it was a tragedy for 48 percent of the people who recieved land in the 102 years The Homestead Act existed. <br />
The farmers given land with adequate rainfall were successful but the ones given the arid land of the Great Plains suffered sever hardships and many were defeated. When a farmer failed the same unproductive land was given to another farmer and the sad story would be repeated. It was a betrayal, and a violation of trust by the government. But since the majority of the homesteaders were poor immigrants and the unemployed they were considered expendable in the long term political and economic goals of The Homestead Act. While a disaster for many farmers it succeeded in opening up federal lands, stolen from the Native Americans, to private farm ownership. It was nation building.<br />
Wes Jacksons book Becoming Native to this Place, reports that when Nick Fenton researched the secession of deeds to his land, in North Dakota, he found that between 1885 and 1955, fourteen families had tried and failed to survive on what was now his center eighty acres. <br />
These haunting words of loneliness from, The Giants of the Earth , Ole Rolvaag’s classic novel of the immigrants experience, tell how a Norwegian woman responded to the treeless, unbroken plain of grassland: “All along the way, coming out, she noticed this strange thing: the stillness had grown deeper, the silence more depressing. She realized it had been weeks since she’d heard a bird sing.” <br />
The Homestead Act (1862 to 1976) gave each settler 160 acres, a mule and plow. Unfortunately 160 acres was not enough land to sustain the farmers or produce farm income. Insufficient rain on parts of the Great Plains and other areas was also a problem. Because of these conditions 48 percent of the farmers failed. There were thousands and thousands of victims of this land give-away. Richard Manning documents in Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie , “ They filled the poor houses, insane asylums and graveyards.” <br />
The terms of The Homestead Act required the homesteaders to stay on the land five years, build a house, and improve the land before getting a clear title to the land. This meant plowing up, “sod busting”, the ancient and complex root system that dominated the central plains.<br />
The rich top soil, found beneath the sod, did not guarantee success because some areas did not have the minimum 6 inches of precipitation needed for sustenance farming. The farmers were unaware the free 160 acres would be the beginning of years of near starvation, hardships, and suffering. They lived in poverty in the vastness of the ocean of grass until their spirits were broken. This story was repeated in counties all over the Great Plains.<br />
Allen Reed, president of the Little Museum on the Prairie, dedicated to the homesteaders, attempts to romanticize and idealize the suffering of the Great Plains settlers.by making the dubious statement, “Perhaps the power of the homesteaders comes from the simplicity of their existence.” Power from “ the simplicity of their existence?” What power came from poverty and the defeat of 48 percent of the farmers by the grassland, and therefore did not complete the five years necessary to get a clear title to the land. They were the governments second victims. The Mandan, Lakotas. Dakota and Yankton Sioux, the native tribes of the North American Great Plains, who were murdered for their lands or forced to live on reservations were the first victims of imperial expansion. <br />
The immigrants came to America fleeing poverty, political oppression and religious persecution. They wanted jobs, a peaceful life and instead, found death, poverty and hardship disguise as the benevolent Homestead Act. This deception made the innocent homesteaders odyssey on the arid Great Plains into the greatest of tragedies and betrayals.<br />
Ocean of Grass<br />
Edward Hirsch<br />
The ground was holy, but the wind was harsh<br />
and unbroken prairie stretched for hundreds of<br />
miles<br />
<br />
So that all she could see was an ocean of <br />
grass<br />
Some days she got so lonely she went outside<br />
and nestled among the sheep, for company.<br />
<br />
The ground was holy, but the wind was harsh<br />
and prairie fires swept across the plains,<br />
lightning up the country like a vast tinder box<br />
until all she could see was an ocean of flames.<br />
<br />
She went three years without viewing a tree.<br />
When her husband took her on a timber<br />
run<br />
<br />
she called the land holy but the wind was harsh<br />
and got down on her knees and wept<br />
inconsolably,<br />
<br />
and lived in a sod hut for thirty more years<br />
until the world dissolved in a world of grass.<br />
<br />
Sergei Ivanova’s painting The Death of a Settler is a memorial to poor farmers. It shows a poor farmer who has gone east, fleeing the famine, with his family in search of better land and has died on the road. He lays between the wooden harness handles he had been pulling the wagon with all their processions. His wife, laying hopeless on the ground, has covered his face with a cloth and placed a holy icon upon him. A young child sits forlornly on the ground nearby looking at her fathers covered face. The picture is about the death of a poor farmer but it is also a requiem for the mother and child who have little chance of survival, during a time of famine, on the remote wagon road in the Russian Steppes.

This is history:<br />
<br />
<br />
Orlando Lujan Martinez IWA rtf....rtf<br />
6020 Kathryn Ave. SE #16<br />
Albuquerque NM 87108   a1234poem@yahoo.com<br />
<br />
          The Honor Society of Vietnam War Nurses<br />
              Orlando Lujan Martinez IWA<br />
<br />
    The nurses war was different from the soldiers-instead of exploding in the jungle, it blew up in the mind.  Surrounded by death, the nurses had to shut down emotionally.  They could not show their feelings to the soldiers they were trying to heal.            <br />
  The honor society of nurses in war was, for the most part, absence from the nations war memorials until  Glenna Goodacres, renown New Mexico sculptor and artist, sculpted the poignant Vietnam Woman's Memorial.  The bronze statue evokes a keen sense of sadness and love, as it pays tribute to the eleven thousand American women, 7,484 were nurses, who served in the military during the Vietnam War. <br />
    Glenna Goodacres' memorial was unveiled on Veteran's Day, November 11, 1993.  It depicts three nurses in battle dress, one comforts a wounded or perhaps dying soldier, another nurse kneels, and then another looks up, in expectation, to the sky for a medevac helicopter.  The Vietnam Woman's Memorial is located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, near the south end of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. <br />
    The Vietnam Woman's Memorial, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and "Three Soldiers" Memorial have been brought together, on the Mall, to created the greatest anti-war statement of our times. The memorials are a message, for mankind to ponder and learn, from a mythical era of war, death and revelation.  They do not say that war is noble.  They only say that death is real.   <br />
    Towards the end of the war the nurses came to realize, as did the troops in the field, that the death and suffering were in vain. That their soldier patients, average age 18, were being killed for no reason.  That there would not be a victory.<br />
One nurse recalling an incident of her Vietnam tour said, "We were working in a field hospital medical tent and there wasn't enough room for all the soldiers so the doctors triage them and the dying soldiers were put outside the tent on stretchers, to make room for the soldiers that had a chance o surviving, and some of them<br />
knew why they were put outside. <br />
I stepped outside the tent to have a cigarette and one of the dying soldiers called me over. "I know why I'm here," he said in a weak voice and I want you to sent this letter to my wife." He gave her a bloodstained letter and she said, holding back tears, she could not show her feelings to the a soldier that was dying. "Sure, I can do that for you."<br />
It was the saddest moment of her service in Vietnam. These young nurses saved the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and comforted thousands more who died from their wounds.<br />
  But out of the Vietnam War tragic ruins came the astounding Vietnam Veterans Memorial, rising like a phoenix out of the funeral pyre of Vietnam: to bring together the civilians, soldiers, nurses and other military personal, to remember, morn, and cry for the honor dead in this tragic war and then to finally heal. <br />
   "The Wall' and the adjacent: The Vietnam Woman's Memorial and the "Three  Soldiers" memorials are memorials to the sacrifice and the comradeship of all military personal that serve in Vietnam. They are brothers and sisters,  The Vietnam War became historical legend and is a heroic war, despite the tragedy of it being a malignant war. <br />
     The visitors who come to pay homage at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial become captured by the sorrow and mystic that radiates from it, that many are overcome by grief and tears.<br />
    The "purpose" of that wall, wrote the New Republic, is "to impress upon the visitor the sheer human waste, the utter meaninglessness of it all...but it is much more than that: it is the emotional unification for those valiant nurses, soldiers and navy personal, who till then had thought they were orphans.  The Vietnam War Memorial welcomes them home-at last-and remembers the great courage and sacrifices of the nurses,and other military members.  <br />
     Soldiers remember the nurses with love and affection-the kind smile, the gentle touch, the soft words that eased their pain.  Parents spoke with gratitude of the nurses that sent their sons home.      <br />
      In Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, former Colonel Diana Dawn Poole wrote "One of my rules was that nurses were not allowed to cry. The wounded and dying men in our care need our strength, I told them.  We couldn't indulge in the luxury of our own feelings. On the other hand, I was always straight with the soldiers. I would never say, "Oh, you're going to be just fine," if they were on their way out. I didn't lie."<br />
     The nurses in Vietnam signed up under an economic draft in which the military paid for nursing school or continuing education in exchange for enlisting. Recruiters told the nurses they would not be called to Vietnam.  But after the Tet Offensive, the Army called up all nurses on active duty. The nurses were totally unprepared for what they would see and experience. Literally thrown into the role, often under fire and always in danger, these young women saved the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and comforted thousands more who died from their wounds. <br />
   1996 Memorial Day Address at the Wall by  Diana Carlson Evans, RN founder of the memorial project and former army nurse in Vietnam said:   "On November 11, 1993 an event took place here which changed the landscape of the Capital Mall. The faces of women are now seen as part of our national history. On that Veterans' Day, the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project dedicated the bronze sculpture which stands directly behind you here on this sacred ground." <br />
    "Together with the Wall and the statue of the three infantrymen, the Vietnam Women's Memorial is healing the wounds and capturing the hearts of millions throughout the world..."<br />
     "The names of  eight women who lost their lives while on military service in Vietnam are etched on the Wall.  It is in their memory and to recognize and honor all women who served that the Vietnam Women's Memorial was placed here on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial."<br />
      As creator of the Vietnam Women's Memorial - the seven foot tall bronze sculpture- artist Glenna Goodacre has experienced her most gratifying moments watching visitors reach out to touch her work. "If someone is so moved by my piece that they want to put a hand on it and feel whatever they can," says Goodacre,  "What better compliment could you get?<br />
    "I sculpted The Vietnam Woman's Memorial  to honor a distinct group of women whom I admired and focused upon their contributions. I have heard from so many of them how that sculpture has helped them deal with the Vietnam War; it has changed their lives.  Which is more important, to have a positive response from those women or a good review from some critic?"<br />
    In the hush of the hospital tent, among the wounded and suffering soldiers, nurses and doctors glided between the beds, an occasional moan drifted in the air. The muffled sound of gun fire was in the distance.  When a nurse passed a bed where a young man laid weakly, he said "Nurse, could you help me get a drink of water." <br />
     "Sure."  the nurse said, looking at the gaze wrapped stubs of the mans lower arms.  She filled a glass of water from a container on the bedside table and held the glass to his lips.  While he, the young man of eighteen, drank the water the nurse struggle with a overwhelming sense of sadness.  She put down the glass, and had to get out of the stifling tent.   She went out and stood under the hot rays of the Vietnam sun, looking towards the sound of the muted gunfire, wondering;  Why?  Why?

history can put money in you pocket as a travel guild as for your name Anastasia that is Russan.

Cool I'll have to check it out when I get round to it :)

Thanks, Dreamer. I don't come here much but if you like history please do visit my Ana the Imp blog. http://anatheimp.blogspot.com Constance is actually my middle name. My first name is Anastasia. :-)

Very interesting story :) <br />
<br />
I would say though the practical reason for studying history and exploring it's depths is to progress and learn; to move away from the mistakes that humanity has already made, but also to warm to its sucesses.<br />
<br />
However I can understand the reasoning behind learning history for the sheer thrill of discovery. I love history too, it's interesting to see how things used to be, how our ancestors used to act, and where that has led us. <br />
<br />
Thank you for an insightful piece of writing :)

There is indeed. :-)

Thank you, Koyptakh. :-)

Hi Constance1<br />
I am drawn to The Easter islands and wonder if appreciation of that History may not save Human Beings yet. That is practical enough a purpose for me. You make an impressive advocate and History needs you.<br />

I know, I know. The Owl of Minerva sometimes never flies, even at dusk!