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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:  

WHAT 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 REASON  
                              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.


Dr. Bonnie Harris