Why History Matters: A Student Perspective

This post is by our student Charlotteyou can read more of her thoughts on her blog.

I have been asked so many times, ‘what is the point in studying history?’ and ‘what good is a history degree?’ So, I thought I would write a blog about it!

What drives your desire to study? Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

I have always been fascinated with the history of medicine and have recently been listening to an American podcast called This Podcast Will Kill You. It is hosted by two epidemiologists who discuss viruses and explore the biology of viruses, the history of the disease and the impact it has today. It was whilst listening that I thought, why are the sciences and humanities often put in opposing corners when this extremely successful podcast looks at the history of medicine as well as the science. They explain why it is important to understand the history of disease as often this explains people’s attitudes today. So, what better way to outline why history matters than with a 5-point list!!

1) We can learn from past experiences.

History allows us to explore the past, this could be in terms of politics, culture, gender, economics, religion etc. We are already (hopefully) learning from the mistakes made during the Covid-19 pandemic. This can extend further to see how people in the past responded to pandemics, what worked for them and what didn’t? We can see what happened when far right or far left groups entered politics and gained power. What were the warning signs, and can we spot them today to prevent any future harm?

2) To become good citizens.

A lot of citizen tests refer to the history of the country, this is partly to ensure that people have an understanding of why things are a certain way. Studying history means you can explore why people have fought and continue to fight in some countries for the vote and human rights. Homosexuality is still illegal in many countries and here in Britain the LGBTQ+ community can still receive hatred and hostility. Perhaps a better understanding of their struggle could create more empathy amongst the ignorant. Studying history enables us to think critically about information we receive and understand the origins, for example, why did we join the EU? Do those in power who argue against this understand the implications that could have?

With great power comes great responsibility. Use your knowledge for good! Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

3) To become better humans.

Studying history isn’t just about kings and queens (unless that’s what you’re interested in). History can be family history, learning about your ancestors or even your local community. This isn’t always positive but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s good to feel angry or disappointed about people’s past decisions. By feeling angry that means there has been a change and we can continue to change hopefully for the better. We can see how far humanity has come and explore where we could potentially go.

4) History directly impacts today.

History is often referred to as a ‘dead’ subject but decisions from the past can still be felt today. The media often claim that we should return to having the death penalty, but I feel that if people understood why the death penalty was abolished and what an execution actually looked like, then they wouldn’t be so quick to throw that idea around. The NHS has been in crisis for a long time, but do we understand why the welfare state was created and what we would lose if we no longer had it. We are so fortunate in this country to get free medical care but in countries such as America, there are those who can’t afford cancer treatment and who get into extreme debt because they can’t afford health insurance to cover their HIV medication.

5) History is fun!!!

So, after all that doom and gloom I thought I would end on a positive note. History is so much fun and isn’t just about remembering key dates. The areas to explore today are endless, history covers witchcraft and folklore, sexuality, sports and leisure, crime, the media, medicine and so on. I regularly feel like a curious child asking BUT WHY! The next time someone says, ‘can you get a job studying history’, the answer should be a big fat yes. You can get a job studying history, it provides opportunities to develop many transferable skills such as being analytical, being creative, being able to construct an argument and being able to communicate in a variety of different ways. But, job opportunities aside, it is a fascinating subject! I have really enjoyed the virtual talks from museums since Covid-19, but I can’t wait to be able to visit them again and absorb the history, when it is safe to do so.

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