History in the Bigger Picture: Its Importance and Worth
by Lindsay Wong
Whenever I tell people I’m a history major, they seem to formulate an impression of me based on that fact alone. I feel like people who do “professional” degrees don’t take me seriously when I say that I’m an Arts student, much less a history major. Just because I don’t have exams, they think that I hardly study. I have also discovered that people commonly find history to be a boring subject. In my IB higher level history class in high school, out of 30 students in my cohort, there were only five people in my class. Even now, people don’t think I have a heavy workload because I am majoring in history. They do not understand how complex history is, and they definitely don’t understand its importance in the bigger picture. Where would society be without history? What importance does it have in our lives?
Despite the stereotypes of history being a “boring” subject, it is fairly popular. Here at the University of Melbourne, the level one history subject that I am currently doing, “The World Since World War 2”, has 350+ students. Even though we study the facts in history and what happened in the past, there are more aspects to history that are unknown to other people. We also examine why things happened the way they did, and different perspectives of events, which give us different views and outlooks of what happened in the world. As human beings, we naturally worry about the future. History is the study of the past, and in order to plan for the future, we need to look at what happened in that past. What has happened in history can influence what is happening now and what will happen in the future – the after-effects of many past events are still felt to this day. The legacies of the Cold War still feature in global news, the outcome of the Korean War remaining relevant due to unresolved conflict between North and South Korea. History helps us to understand people and societies as it allows us to interpret and analyse why certain people made – and continue to make – certain decisions. By analysing historical materials like primary and secondary sources alike, we gain insight into what people thought and why events occurred. History is therefore a subject that still has relevance in the world today.
Another important aspect of this subject is that we can examine different perspectives by studying history. Different perspectives – such as gender, race, ethnicity and class – provide society with distinct histories, as people experience events differently due to their identity and social position. Even though we are studying the facts in history, history is written by people who are influenced by their own experiences and backgrounds, and therefore have their own biases. As students, we are often told that history was written by the victors, as said by Winston Churchill. The “winners” are the ones who rewrite history – they write school textbooks, produce media content, etc. The government can exploit their power to indoctrinate people with certain ideologies. For example, if students in school are only taught one aspect of history, they will grow up solely with this knowledge. They will not be aware of the other perspectives unless they examine them further. In effect, these people will only have one perspective of history, and for the rest of their lives they will have this same mindset. The so-called “losers” have less of a voice, but this does not mean we should ignore them. Often, what we learn from the “losers” is the most surprising, and it can even change our entire perspective of a historical event. However, recently, society has been hearing more voices regarding different historical events. With the development of technology, more people have been speaking out about their experiences in history. The progressive development of freedom of speech has allowed more and more people to listen to new perspectives of history, which effectively change their perceptions. When historians study history, different perspectives have to be taken into account.
History has close ties with politics, as history has a significant influence when making political decisions. History and politics shape each other. Political leaders themselves formulate a large sector of history. In the study of history, we study past political leaders and why they made the decisions that they did. Whatever decisions they make will have an effect on the future, and this later on becomes history. History also gives context to politics. When political events are carried out, history will always come into play. For example, one of the reasons why Donald Trump won the United States presidential election in 2016 is because of the history of the Republican political party. The Republicans had been gaining support in the past, and this became evident when Trump became the 45th U.S. president. There were even some claims that because of Trump’s appointment as President, neo-Nazism was on the rise again. This demonstrates that past events suggest how current events will play out. When explaining why these political events occurred, we can link it to historical events that took place in the past as well. As a result, history and politics are linked, and it is difficult to understand one discipline without the other.
History continues to influence the modern world, as well as how we think of the world. It is not just a “boring”, compulsory subject that we are forced to take in high school, and it is not just the facts – this subject also explores the different aspects and perspectives of why certain events took place. There are misconceptions about history among the general public that present it as a “boring” subject with a lot of memorising involved. However, when studying history in university, how often do we have to memorise the facts? Instead, we analyse historical materials in order to interpret past events and people’s lives. People who do not study history, especially those in other faculties like science and commerce, either do not understand how the subject of history works or are unaware. It’s about time that we, as a society, look at history in the bigger picture and consider how history is actually significant in our lives.