Centuries ago, a solid understanding in the histories of cultures and civilizations long gone was essential to a fulfilling life. However, times have changed, and many question the place of history in the standard curriculum of schools. Students question the necessity of history, particularly in an ever-dynamic world where forward seems to be the only direction. International schools in South Korea demand loads of coursework in history classes – but fail to address its applicability to the present day. This raises an important question: does history even matter anymore?
The short answer is yes. History is the narrative of mankind; the tale of our origins and developments. History is, in fact, the most important story that needs to be told and learned.
Society is changing faster than ever before. Never in the history of mankind have we as a species been so connected to each other; Germans and Malays live side by side in the suburbs of Atlanta, speaking the same tongue and sharing the same future. As we grow closer to one another, we must start to consider what influences our interactions with other people. It goes to say that we are greatly influenced by our worldviews, which, in turn, are heavily determined by our perspectives on history. The way people think and talk is shaped by countless historical factors, and these patterns will persist until our extinction.
In an article written by renowned historian Peter N. Stearns, history is credited as being a “storehouse of information about how people and societies behave”. An example of such can be seen in the ever-thorny tension on the Korean Peninsula. To someone who has never examined the history of Korea and the Cold War, the division between the nations may seem arbitrary. “Why can’t they just get along?” they may ask, not understanding the complex circumstances that brought the peninsula to the point it is at today. To those who have examined history, however, it is easier to cultivate educated opinions on the matter.
Still there are those who question the practicality of history. In the words of Stearns, “Historians do not perform heart transplants, improve highway design, or arrest criminals. In a society that quite correctly expects education to serve useful purposes, the functions of history can seem more difficult to define than those of engineering or medicine.” It’s true – historians provide no immediate service to the world. However, “history is in fact very useful, actually indispensable, but the products of historical study are less tangible, sometimes less immediate, than those that stem from some other disciplines.” Indeed, it can be argued that history produces few tangible benefits, but the knowledge and skills you can develop while studying history will prove imperative towards a successful future as a lifelong scholar.
Diplomat-in-service Dan Callahan of the US Embassy in Seoul emphasizes the importance of history in understanding interactions and relationships; he gave a example of such interconnection between history and relationships in the ongoing strain that the comfort women controversy has on Japan-South Korea ties – which further influence the entire northeast Asia region, as well as the United States, economically, culturally, and diplomatically.
Often times, history can be mundane, even repetitive. But to those who invest enough effort in their learning endeavors, history will prove itself to be essential to an cultured mind and an enlightened worldview. In light of recent developments in the Iranian Deal, North Korea, Brexit, and the rise of Italy’s Far Right, it is important to use history as a guide, herald, and mentor.