Why I Study History
(OR: Why I waste time in a meaningless field; why I want to spend my life looking at old dusty letters and books; why I care about people who are dead and gone; why this even matters.)
I study history because I love humanity.
I study history because it encompasses the entire realm of human thought and deed.
History is a coded map of the human heart; it is a record of hopes & dreams of the great and the small. History is the ambitions of humans on their knees — in the mosques, the cathedrals, the temples; on the plantations; in the trenches. History is the hopes of the humans looking ahead — at the horizon, up to the stars, towards the future.
History is the action of firing a gun or swinging a sword; the action of love (making it, keeping it, using it, stealing it, forgetting it, leaving it).
History is a Mozart symphony, a Wagnerian opera, a gamelan orchestra, and the rhythm of the military march.
History is culture, literature, philosophy; history is the smallest bedtime prayer whispered by the smallest child. It is a quest — to slay the dragon, to reclaim the Holy Land, to surpass all boundaries.
History is neither good nor evil, but it is the sum of good and evil things. It is the wheel of time, the moving hands of a clock, and the timeless hush of an old library. History is in the museums but also in destruction of museums.
And the work of a historian is not a dead job. It is not all dust and old books, faded parchment and endless, meaningless letters. It is not mummification — rather, it is the resurrection and immortalization of past lives, past hopes and fears and dreams.
The historian does not worship the past, but instead brings it into the present — refreshes it, remembers it, and, most importantly, learns from it. The historian knows that history is a tool, and knowledge of history is both an honor and a powerful weapon in the right (or wrong) hands.
Most of all, the historian knows that history is not only the past — it is the future.