The Importance of History
By Anya Alexis Wilkie
History is not merely an academic subject, but a discipline that shapes our lives.
In almost every field of study, students are taught about the past men and women who made great advancements in that field. Scientists are taught about men like Aristotle, Newton, and Galileo; artists study Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and van Gogh. These students are taught to learn from and emulate the good of the people they are studying, while avoiding their mistakes. Similarly, it is important in the discipline of life to study all those who have come before and evaluate their decisions so that one may learn how he should and should not act.
The American colonists chose to fight and endure hardship in order to gain their freedom. We can learn from their example and choose to give up our comfort or ease for the sake of freedom. Conversely, many people from the past have made mistakes with devastating consequences, like the Trojans, who naively trusted the “gift” of the Trojan Horse left to them by their enemies, the Greeks. If we can learn from such mistakes, we can avoid suffering similar consequences ourselves.
Oftentimes, however, we do suffer the consequences of poor decisions simply because we do not know history well. The Roman Republic suffered the near annihilation of the country because the commoners and the aristocrats were too busy fighting amongst themselves to be able to fight the Gaulish invaders. Today in America, we are the ones fighting and having disunity amongst different classes and races. For instance, a crowd protesting against racism tore down a statue of Abolitionist Hans Christian Heg, who worked to end slavery and actually died fighting for the Union in the Civil War. As a nation, we need to unite and put aside our differences, or else, like the Roman Republic, we will not be able to stand together when danger threatens the safety of our nation.
Many people in America, because they do not know history well, think that communism is a better economic system than capitalism. In reality, capitalism is a much better system because it encourages and rewards diligence. On the other hand, communism, even in its most well-meaning forms, inevitably ends up rewarding laziness and punishing diligence by taking from those who have (which typically includes the diligent) to give to those who do not have (which typically includes the indolent). In actual practice, history has shown that communism always ends up devolving into systems in which corrupt government officials take everything, while the people are left with nothing. This is the case with every communist country today, such as North Korea, which recruits actors to portray happy North Korean citizens while most of the country is starving and defectors risk their lives to escape. History can warn people of the consequences of their actions before they get themselves into a difficult or even dangerous situation.
History is essentially a vast collection of case studies of how different people chose to live. If we listen and learn from their stories, we can emulate the actions of those who made good choices while avoiding the mistakes made by others. Sadly, too many people do not see any value in studying history, and instead see it as a waste of time. Let us put aside our preconceived notions and dive into the pages of history to see for ourselves what treasures they may hold.
Anya Wilkie is a student at the Classical Academy of Academic Excellence in Brighton, IL, and is considering attending Cedarville University, a CLT partner college in Cedarville, OH. In addition to ancient literature, she enjoys playing the violin and collecting fossils.