Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Reflection on “Why Study History"

Why study history; that is the very question that the author asks?  Peter Sterns, the author of “Why Study History” reasons that why we study history is because “we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience.”  Although I wouldn’t use those exact words I agree with Mr. Sterns and his view of the relevance of history.

There are several reasons as to why the study of history is relevant.  My main reason for viewing history as a master science is that history helps us understand change and how the society we live in is the way it is.  People speak, think, and do certain things in a particular way for a reason; but seldom is the question asked why we do what we do?  Some examples of this are:

  1. You better… or your name is Mud
  2. You traitor! You, you, you Benedict Arnold!
  3. Day light savings
  4. Why do we (American’s) drink coffee when the preferred drink by most of the western Anglo world is tea?

All of these things have some explanation in American history and for the majority of Americans we say or do these things with out giving any thought to it.  The first saying is attributed to the Lincoln assassination; a doctor with the last name of Mud gave medical assistance to John Wilkes Booth.  By doing this he made the name “Mud” the “Hitler” of the late 1800’s.  Since then no people with the last name of Mud have been able to accomplish any prominence for being anything other than the ancestor of one of the countries great douche bags.

While on the topic of classical American “douche bags” Benedict Arnold comes to mind.  At the beginning of the Revolutionary War Benedict Arnold was a supporter of the American colonies and the war for independence from Britain.  At some point he felt that he made the wrong decision, tried to surrender West Point to the British and when his plan was ousted he changed sides to fight with the English.  While writing this and being a native Ohioan, I wonder if Lebron will spend his after life in the same place as Mr. Arnold?

Day light savings time is not an American idea, but it is practiced by Americans and many now question, so what’s the point in this crap anyway!  It was put in place to give people more daylight to get there work done.  Now that people have electricity and farmers have realized they will just wake up at sun up whether the sun comes up at 6 or 7 in the morning; the whole concept seems to be out of date.  Although many Americans feel that the practice is a waste and more confusion than what it is worth, when the topic of dropping the change comes up people act as though blasphemy is being spouted and the sinner who speaks it should meet an untimely demise because of his pagan beliefs.

America’s choice of drink before the inception of carbonated beverages was coffee.  Coffee is still a major drink in the United States, ask anyone from Seattle, but seldom is the question asked; why not tea?  In 1773 the British imposed a tax on tea, and the colonies were not pleased with this decision.  Long story short a bunch of white dudes dressed like Indians, ruined a lot of tea, and a nation avoided taxes as usual and drank more coffee.  The rest is history and Starbucks should now be considered a patriotic institution for adopting the American dogma of “screw taxes!”

So I realize that all these things seem kind of trivial but it is an example of why history is vital.  If I never had studied history I would have never wondered why my father drinks coffee in the morning, but an Englishmen drinks tea.  The question of why American’s twice a year either show up an hour late and/or early for work.  The answer to why I have never met any Mr. or Ms. Mud in my life or why Benedict Arnold took his talents to South Beach, wait, wait; I got that one backwards.  Understanding history is how we understand ourselves; Mr. Sterns put it best so in closing I will close with another line from him:

Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change."


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