My Past Academic Writings 3: Is a study of history relevant in today’s uncertain world?

So, I have decided to showcase some of my past, not so well-done academic writings that I have done in my 2 years in Junior College. They are not the best, but these are definitely pieces which I have placed my hard work, sweat and blood into. And I most definitely welcome discussions!

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The study of history has always been a focal point in education systems around the world. Students learn about their country’s history from young, and subsequently going on to cover global history later in their academic life. While such depicts its popularity and importance, History has always been involved in a debate about its relevance. There are some who argue that history is irrelevant, given that the 21st century is ever-changing and fast-pace; there are also some who contends that there is significance in studying history regardless of the prevailing uncertainty in our modern day context. This essay shall show how the study of history is not only beneficial, but essential to our lives in the 21st century.

Following the words by Famous historian, William Lund, “We study the past to understand the present. We understand the present to guide the future.” It is an unassailable notion that learning about the past offers individuals and societies a plethora of lessons to be learnt. Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” has not only been used in modern day warfare but also by managers to manage company. The past forms the rudimentary blocks of the present, and it can be said that what many possess today is derived from the actions of past.  That said, it is exactly because of the ambiguous nature of the present that there is all the more a need to study history. People need to be appreciative with what they have now, and not take things for granted. The Civil Rights March that occurred in the mid-1900s resonates the need for equality amongst people of different skin colour in America. In another instance, the teaching of a series of past tragic incidences, such as the Maria Hertogh riots or the Hock Lee Bus Riots, to youth in Singapore echoes the need for her citizens to mutually respect one another and appreciate the current peace and harmony she possess. By learning about the causes and effects of events in history, people can learn better ways to deal with conflict among nations and individuals. That is why, there is still a need for people to study history in today’s uncertain world.

Secondly, other than offering lessons to be learnt, the studying of history also offer different insights. Aforementioned, the present is uncertain and the past is fixated. Values and viewpoints will change at different eras. There was a stark contrast between the differing viewpoints in the mid-1900s and today. Then, historians believed that homosexuality was an immoral act, especially in Greece which they even believed that the abundance of homosexuals was a precursor to its downfall. However, in today’s context, most historians believed that societies who embraced homosexuality as part of their culture, tends to be a society with greater social tolerance and more liberty. It is the studying of history that allows man to better understand societal viewpoints at different time periods, or in some cases, understand themselves as well. Hence, there is relevance in the study of history today.

Thirdly, the study of history can help strengthen our cultural identity. As we learn about the cultural heritage of our race or religion, we engulf ourselves in an abundance of information, which often depicts the decisions our ancestors made or the traditions that have been carried down the generations. These define who we are and why we exist in our society. Festivals that are celebrated by the various race or religions have always been governed by a set of strict customs, and each brings forth a set of inherent values, often intrinsic in nature. The Chinese celebrates QingMing Festival, also known as the “Tomb Sweeping Day ”, by visiting the tombs of their ancestors as a form of respect and honouring. The Muslims shakes the hands of their friends and relatives, a practice that has been passed down from one generation to another, during festivals as a symbolism of forgiveness. Thus, only by learning and exposing ourselves to the values and traditions that our ancestors set, do we know who we are, simply because we are made of what our elders teach us. Hence, history is still relevant today.

Opponents of my arguments took the stance that the founder of Ford Industry, Henry Ford had once said, “History is bunk.” They believed that learning History offers no material values and as such finding it unnecessary as the time spent learning History could have been spent elsewhere. Such is perhaps the reason why there have been low employment rate of Historians in today’s society. Such stance is a parochial one because the opponents of my arguments failed to take into consideration of the potential intrinsic benefits that they might attain. This includes the above aforementioned. Furthermore, the stance of claiming history being a gibberish subject ought to be challenged. This is because the past and the present influence one another. The learning of a language, for instance Chinese, can be considered as also learning about the history of the language at the same time, since language has had evolved from the past. Likewise, if one remembers what they have learnt or even teach it, it can also be seen as helping to transmit a living language from the past into the future. Thus, the term “history is bunk” may not necessarily hold ground, as history may not necessarily be gibberish and there are still intangible values to be attained from learning history.

In conclusion, the study of history still offers a myriad of lessons to be learnt, insights to be discovered as well as retaining our cultural identity. Thus, the study of history is still relevant albeit the uncertainty of today’s world, and more should be done to instil zeal amongst individuals such that they actively indulge in learning about history. Like what George Santayana, a famous philosopher, once said, “Those who do not remember about the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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