HISTORY - What is it?
Why should we study it?
Would I be right at
thinking that you have probably hated the study of history in your past
academic life? Too sterile? Too many dry lessons on people, places, dates,
events, things that seemed far too disconnected from each other and held no
value to you or your present life? I experienced this as well and it led to me
searching for answers to these basic questions:
is history and WHY do we study it?
As I have asked students
these questions throughout the years, nearly 100% of answers include: history
is the study of the past for the purpose of learning from past mistakes so we
do not repeat them.
SO, if that is what
history is and why we study it, I have to ask, HOW ARE WE DOING? Pretty
terrible aren't we? Don't we see history repeating itself ALL the time? What is
the definition of insanity? = to do the same thing over and over expecting a
different result? Have we been insanely studying history is the same manner
decade after decade only to be repeating the same mistakes again and again?
OKAY - so if our study
of history to learn from the past so as not to repeat it ISN'T working so hot,
what does that mean?
We are studying history for the WRONG
We are studying history WRONG
I actually believe BOTH are true
I, with a PhD in
History, HATED the study of history. HOWEVER, I LOVED stories of people at the
heart of historic times, stories of everyday people in their everyday lives
from the past. Before I left elementary school I had read the works of Jack
London and James Fennimore Cooper. My favorite book was the story of Mollie
Pitcher - a true life heroine of the American Revolution. I had read Drums
Along the Mohawk and was reading the works of Alexander Dumas in Jr. High School.
I LOVED historic novels. But the academic study of history in my youth was so
far removed from my passion for the past, I did not see that they could have
been and should have been the same thing! It took me years to come to an answer
as to why I believed this disconnect existed.
I came to realize that
history was MORE than the study of past events, places, objects, dates, people,
etc. - that it is the study of past and present HUMAN experience: thought,
action, reaction, ambitions, fears, and especially, EMOTIONS. Historical
pedagogy has deliberately avoided the emotional quotient in the study of
history because scholars believed it would taint the objective analysis of the
facts and skew a truthful conceptualization of history. I believe it has had
just the opposite effect.
If we are not using our EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
in our observations of past human experiences, how can we ever know how and why
human beings responded to their surroundings and to each other? We are
emotional creatures - our emotions motivate our actions and, above all, condition
our reactions. And it is that EMOTIONAL component of human beings that makes
the study of the human condition different than all other studies AND what I
believe has been lacking in our academic approach to studying the human at the
heart of history.
Just like us today,
human beings of ALL ages of the world and in all places acted and reacted to
their environment and to each other based on their emotional responses to the
event, time, place, etc. that they found themselves in. They acted or reacted
out of love, hate, fear, determination, compassion, anger, tenderness,
brutality, greed, etc. History is the
record that human beings left behind that tells us WHO they were, WHAT
challenges they faced in their existence and HOW they coped with them AND in
the long course of the cause and effect of human existence on the earth, it then tells us WHO we are, and WHY we are
who we are - how the emotionally charged actions and reactions of humans in the
past created the world we live in today and in which we define ourselves.
SO how do I answer, What is history?
And WHY we should study it?
History is the story of
the human experience in all ages of the past, present, and future of life on
this planet, observed through a foundation of factual evidence AND then
interpreted through a combination of intuitive reasoning AND our emotional
intelligence that connects us to the emotional experience of the human being at
the heart of it all.
The study of history then can answer for us
WHO we are and WHY we are who we are and thus by extension can tell us why
OTHERS are who they are and WHY they are who they are and when that occurs,
better understanding of each other is accomplished, which builds bridges
between us, bridges of tolerance, understanding, compassion, and peaceful
coexistence in families, neighborhoods, cities, nations, and the world.
I LOVE HISTORY
Dr. Bonnie Harris