Why should I learn about the past?
All people are living histories – which is why History matters Penelope J. Corfield
What is the use or relevance of studying history? Why on earth does it matter what happened long ago? The answer is that history is unavoidable. It studies the past and the consequences of the past in the present. Far from being a ‘dead’ subject, it connects people and events through time and inspires those who study it to explore such connections.
So how are all people and peoples living histories? Communities speak languages that are inherited from the past. They live in societies with intricate cultures, traditions and religions that have been created over long periods of time. People use technologies that they have not themselves invented. And each individual is born with a personal metamorphosis of a genetic template, known as the genome, which is inherited and which has developed during the entire life-span of the human species.
Understanding the links between the past and the present is absolutely basic for a clear appreciation of what it means to be human. That is why History matters. It is not just ‘useful’, it is essential.
The study of history encourages students to understand the importance of not just learning history, but learning from history. Understanding past events and people and their significance gives students a better insight into the world around them.
Learning about history helps children and young people to think critically and to develop judgement. A knowledge of Britain’s past, and our place in the world, enables children and young people to understand the challenges of the present day.
The National Curriculum aims to make sure that all children and young people know and understand British history as a clear narrative in chronological order, from the story of the first settlers in these islands to the evolution of the institutions which rule our lives today. Knowledge and understanding of how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world should be recognised. This should include acknowledgement of the achievements and mistakes made.
One of the important developments is the understanding of how evidence is used meticulously to make historical claims, and being clear about how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been built.
Historical perspective should be acquired by placing children and young people’s growing knowledge into different contexts. This will help their understanding of the connections between local, regional, national and international history. At a more advanced level, this will also help young people to appreciate the connections between cultural, economic, military, political, religious and social history.
GCSE specifications guide young people in learning more about the history of Britain and that of the wider world. This should motivate young people to strengthen their understanding of the people, periods and events studied. It should also equip young people to think critically through examining evidence to reflect on arguments. They are then in a position to make informed decisions and to develop their own perspective and judgement.
This will lead to the preparation for them for a role as informed, thoughtful and active citizens.
The discipline of gaining knowledge and understanding of the past will also help young people to appreciate their own identity and significant issues of the world in which they live. Further wider learning and study can be undertaken from this basis.