Why an understanding of history is essential to help us grow as a society


In a recent conversation with a fellow Union student, the topic of the morality and interpretation of historical events came up, sparking lively discourse between us lasting for quite some time. The history of our nation is extremely important to our understanding of how we came to be and the structure of our society, and it should, under no circumstances, be forgotten or erased. It is so troubling when things like statues of and dedicated to historical figures are torn down by angry mobs of vandals. To properly understand historical events, and how and why they came to be, one must first be able to understand the circumstances under which they happened. Taking, for example, the issue of colonization in America, we can see why it is necessary to have an understanding of the time period in which it took place: in this case, the Age of Imperialism. When the British first began colonizing what is now the United States, this was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the British were late to the game of colonizing North America, as Spain and France had already been in the region for years by the time the British arrived. I want to now take a moment to emphasize the fact that it was the British who were responsible for colonizing this area and starting the process of taking land from the American Indians. The colonists, who went on to become Americans, were already there and had to make the best of their situation. When judged by the social norms and standards of human rights today, the colonization of the Eastern seaboard and beyond by the British and Americans can be compared to the annexation of Crimea by Russia a few years ago, sparking an international political firestorm. The social norms and standards of today were not in effect during the time of colonization, and were hundreds of years away from even being dreamed of. It was a different time, an era in history that historians have consciously differentiated from the one we are in now. The only standard and international rule at that time was to the victor goes the spoils, and every nation was grabbing for spoils. Does this mean that we have to believe that what happened during the colonization of America and the treatment of American Indians by settlers was right? No. However, one should understand that this is history, and it is unchangeable, and to attempt to criticize the perpetrators of these acts rather than reach for a better understanding of why they took place is ludicrous and extremely dangerous to society. Social norms, rights and morality are all relative, and looking back on something that happened so far in the past will show just how far we really have come in the way of human rights and morals. People who were living in history did not know that they were living in history. To them, it was just another day in their life, and they made decisions and actions based on the resources, both physical and intellectual, that were available to them. We are currently doing this in our own era of history, and it is almost certain that, in five hundred years, historians and politicians will look back on us with disdain, wondering how we could have operated ourselves in such a manner when, to us, it is nothing but everyday life. To scrutinize a people or an event based on any standards other than their own is foolish, unproductive and unfair. History is vital to the functioning of a nation such as ours, but history is just that: history. It happened in the past, and no matter how hard anyone tries to change it, they cannot. We must examine our history, understand it, and understand why it happened the way it did, before we can use it to move forward as a society. Until then, we are doomed to misunderstand the very events and circumstances that made us come to be, and to ignore the historical guide that can help us navigate the future, as we repeat the mistakes of our past.


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