Why Bother Studying History?
by Art Schnatterly
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Remember all those history classes in high school? YUK! What were the years of the French and Indian War? Who’s assassination led to WWI? When was the Magna Carta signed? Who cares?
For many of us, we memorized these things until the test, then forgot them as quickly as we could. Can’t really say I blame folks for doing that. After all, what use is the memorization of such things? How do they help us get a job, perform our work, aid in social settings or anything else for that matter? History ranks right up there with math and geography among students’ least favorites.
Those who have followed my ramblings know I love history. Why? Because history helps me understand the world I live in. I helps me make decisions when I go to the ballot box, how I view important issues and how I come to understand my Bible. The problem with history in education is that it emphasizes trivia.
I suspect this is for two reasons. First, trivia memorization is easy to test. What year was the US Declaration of Independence signed? 1776! RIGHT… you scored 100%. What did the Declaration of Independence mean? Why was it written? Uhhhh… The second reason is that far too many teachers of history could not really answer the questions other than the date. After all, the football coach has other things to think about than focus on his history students.
When we study history in order to learn and understand instead of memorize trivia, it comes alive. There is great truth to the statement “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” But it is even more.
Here in the USA as well as elsewhere, we are experiencing what is called “revisionist history.” In particular, many are trying to “revise out” the role God and the Bible had to play in the settling of this continent and in the founding of this country. If we don’t know our history, and in the grand scheme of things this history almost counts as current events, these things can just roll right past us.
But of course, history began long before 1776, 1620 or 1492. In terms of the history of the universe, it began with “In the beginning…” Seems to me a good place to start. In terms of human history it begins in the Garden of Eden.
Putting things in context.
I’ve written about this often. Why is it important? Because things did not happen in a vacuum. Time lines are much more important to understanding history than dates. Our understanding of the Bible is greatly enhanced when we understand what was happening in the world at the time of particular biblical events. Far too often we study the historical aspects of the Bible as though they occurred independently of other things “in the world.” Simple examples: At the time of Abraham there already existed highly developed cultures and societies in many parts of the world. Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and even the Clovis people in North America already had come into rather sophisticated existence. From the time of Joshua almost until the time of King Saul, there is very little archaeological evidence of the Hebrews in Canaan. A nomadic people do not leave traces like people who build walled cities. The Hebrews simply did not leave a footprint in the sand as had other peoples.
Even given this, we are back to the question “Why bother with history?” Other than for entertainment for weird folks like me, study of history is important only to the extent that it impacts how we view and understand our world today. It is important only to the extent it has an impact on how we lead our lives and make decisions. Lacking that, we could just as well be reading about Archie and Jughead… entertaining, but hardly important.
And what is the greatest history book ever written? The Holy Bible, of course.
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