The Value of History

A group of American historians, museum directors, and librarians formed a society in 2012 to discuss and promote the value of history in contemporary life, to develop best practices in the teaching and use of history, and to engage the public in projects and dialog. The program they started is called the History Relevance Campaign, and it has grown significantly in the several years since its inception. A key outcome of their early discussions is the value statement reproduced in full below, describing seven ways that history is essential. Although written for Americans, the message is meaningful anywhere.

 

SEVEN WAYS THAT HISTORY IS ESSENTIAL

 

TO OURSELVES:

IDENTITY – History nurtures personal identity in an intercultural world.  History enables people to discover their own place in the stories of their families, communities, and nation. They learn the stories of the many individuals and groups that have come before them and shaped the world in which they live. There are stories of freedom and equality, injustice and struggle, loss and achievement, and courage and triumph. Through these varied stories, they create systems of personal values that guide their approach to life and relationships with others.

CRITICAL SKILLS – History teaches critical 21st century skills and independent thinking. The practice of history teaches research, judgment of the accuracy and reliability of sources, validation of facts, awareness of multiple perspectives and biases, analysis of conflicting evidence, sequencing to discern causes, synthesis to present a coherent interpretation, clear and persuasive written and oral communication, and other skills that have been identified as critical to a successful and productive life in the 21st century.

 

TO OUR COMMUNITIES:

VITAL PLACES TO LIVE AND WORK – History lays the groundwork for strong, resilient communities. No place really becomes a community until it is wrapped in human memory: family stories, tribal traditions, civic commemorations. No place is a community until it has awareness of its history. Our connections and commitment to one another are strengthened when we share stories and experiences.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – History is a catalyst for economic growth. People are drawn to communities that have preserved a strong sense of historical identity and character. Cultural heritage is a demonstrated economic asset and an essential component of any vibrant local economy, providing an infrastructure that attracts talent and enhances business development.

 

TO OUR FUTURE:

ENGAGED CITIZENS – History helps people craft better solutions. At the heart of democracy is the practice of individuals coming together to express views and take action. By bringing history into discussions about contemporary issues, we can better understand the origins of and multiple perspectives on the challenges facing our communities and nation. This can clarify misperceptions, reveal complexities, temper volatile viewpoints, open people to new possibilities, and lead to more effective solutions for today’s challenges. More here.

LEADERSHIP – History inspires local and global leaders. History provides leaders with inspiration and role models for meeting the complex challenges that face our communities, nation, and the world. It may be a parent, grandparent or distant ancestor, a local or national hero, or someone famous or someone little known. Their stories reveal how they met the challenges of their day, which can give new leaders the courage and wisdom to confront the challenges of our time.

LEGACY – History, saved and preserved, is the foundation for future generations. History is crucial to preserving democracy for the future by explaining our shared past. Through the preservation of authentic, meaningful places, documents, artifacts, images, and stories, we leave a foundation upon which future Americans can build. Without the preservation of our histories, future citizens will have no grounding in what it means to be an American.

A young Rohatyn girl looks on

A young Rohatyn girl looks on as the Hebrew writing on a Jewish headstone found at the riverside near her home is translated by a visiting descendant. Photos © 2011 Jay Osborn.