Why history matters
By: Hannah Monson, Content Specialist
When I told people in college that I was majoring in history, there were three reliable responses:
- “So, what grade are you going to teach?”
- “Every barista at Starbucks was a history major, too.”
- “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” or some similar paraphrase
While I do agree with the last sentiment, it isn’t why I love history.
I love history because, for me, it’s a method of immortalization. When my mom died of breast cancer, my 14-year-old brother decided that he wanted to be an oncologist, to cure the disease that had taken her away.
I, on the other hand, was humanities-minded, so I decided to study history. History could not resurrect my mother, but it could immortalize her, keep her alive in the stories and memories of the living.
In his young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, John Green presented the idea of organized mourning. It goes something like this: Because of population growth, for every person alive today, there are only 14 people through history who have died. In theory, this means that if humanity were extremely well-organized, it would be possible to remember and mourn everyone who had ever lived and died.
However, as a species, we are “disorganized mourners, so a lot of people end up remembering Shakespeare, and no one ends up remembering the person he wrote Sonnet Fifty-five about.” (The Fault in Our Stars, p. 151-2) It’s not a bad thing that we remember the people close to us – but what about the millions who perished of the Plague or Spanish flu? What about any number of people in unmarked or mass graves? Who remembers and mourns them?
This is why I love history. Everyone was once someone’s someone – a real person with a real family and friends. And each of them was probably mourned and remembered at the time of their passing. At some point, these people were not historical, they were personal. Somewhere along the way, however, most of them were forgotten.
We are disorganized mourners, so millions remember Shakespeare, and my family remembers my mom. But I want to remember others, too. If humanity cannot get around to organizing its mourning, then I will remember as many people as I can. History is not trudging through boring accounts of long dead people; it is the remembrance of real people who deserve mourning as much as anyone else.
To help you foster your own love of history, click to access this specially curated collection from the experts at OverDrive: Why History Matters – History & Historical Fiction.
About the author:
Hannah Monson is a Content Specialist on the Global Libraries and Education team. While at OverDrive, she has worked with schools in the southern United States, and now works with schools in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East to find the best content for their students.