These days, history is out of fashion. While academics have long proclaimed its end, students simply do not care about studying it.
The argument usually goes something like: ‘’But why is it relevant? We’re in an entirely new condition, in a whole different context’’. Fair enough, if you equate history with a narrative of a victorious movement of humanity towards progress. In that case, you square yourself within a tiny speck on the Eurasian continent. Be it as you please.
The calendar has just switched to 2016. Let’s look around. What are the problems that humanity is facing? War, hunger, poverty, disease, natural disasters. Is this radically different from what our ancestors had to deal with fairly recently in 19th -20th century Europe?
Yet the ordeals of previous generations don’t seem to have taught us much. Isn’t this largely because the alleged innovators think they know better? They readily sweep away our cultural heritage to build the world anew. Too bad, the materials at hand remain the same. Hence mistakes are repeated and perpetuated.
However, even those who are prepared to look back at the past tend to do so in two rather specific ways. One camp promulgates the sweet illusion of the ‘Golden Age’, claiming that everything was good back in the day. The opposing camp takes pain to meticulously deconstruct popular conceptions and leave behind only scattered ruins.
Studying history is not tantamount to drilling dates and facts. Neither is it about immersing yourself in the fanciful descriptions of imaginative historians. It is an exercise in stretching your mind to comprehend a different world. You are forced to expose yourself to alternative ways of thinking and lifestyles that now seem completely alien.
Looking into the past could help us clear our vision of the present and prepare us for the future. This is especially crucial when we are challenged to respect and preserve the diversity of attitudes, worldviews and ways of being. As Abraham Maslow wittily observed, ‘’If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’’