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The Importance of History Education in the 21st Century

After losing two subsequent World Wars and almost immediately diving into a Cold War, it seemed unlikely that Germany would ever return from the historical atrocities of the 20th century. However, a collective and political movement began to grow in order to take responsibility and try to heal from the horrors of the Holocaust. Under slogans such as ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Never Again,’ activists, thinkers, civilians and politicians alike began a movement of conscientization. Memorials were erected and integrated into the cities’ landscapes, and students began learning about their ancestors’ harsh realities. Germany has become one of the most forward-thinking countries and is at the forefront of the fight against social injustice. None of this would be possible, of course, without the immense efforts put towards history education.

Students of history are not only teachers but also archivists, curators, history writers, genealogists, political scientists, historians and artists. History as a subject permeates every area of knowledge, and having a solid background in this métier makes people more aware of the world they live in, fosters compassion and builds a firm grasp of the problems we face as human beings. Regardless of their career path, graduates with an advanced degree in history are essential pillars of any forward-thinking society, and there are several reasons why.

Understanding of Our World

Of course, one of a history education’s main goals is to better understand our world. “Where do we come from?” and “how did we get here” are questions humans have been asking for millennia. Quoting the University of the People blog, “If we want to truly understand why something happened … you need to look for factors that took place earlier. Only through the study of history can people really see and grasp the reasons behind these changes, and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society continue regardless of continual change.”

Critical Thinking

Realizing ways of the past also opens the doors to consider and improve the present and, naturally, the future. A follow-up question integral to the study of history is, “Where are we going?” When evaluating what was done in the past, we can ask ourselves if the way we’re used to operating still serves us as a society.

“Historical comparison helps us to innovate better questions, initiate new inquiry lines, and generate fruitful hypotheses,” write the authors of Study.com. “Education history is essential to this pursuit. It helps us to adopt a critical attitude towards current practices and theories and to improve going forward.”

It’s imperative to look at the past critically and to understand that history is not static. The people living in the present have the power to change or uphold the current institutions of power and other systems in place.

Creating a Sense of Identity

Aside from the reasons necessary to society as a whole, on a more personal level, studying history also gives us a personal sense of identity. Not only a Twitter-era buzzword, identity also connects to a deep part of us that seeks to belong. Looking at past figures and connecting them to their struggles, wants, needs and ways of seeing the world can make us feel less alone. Their solutions to the problems they faced can inspire us to find our own and — whether it be researching one’s family tree or famous historical figures — the knowledge that we are just a small part of a much larger history can bring us comfort and hope.

An advanced degree in history can prepare individuals to consider these important questions in their work and personal lives. This degree sets individuals up to pursue careers and future training in several disciplines, and graduates can go on to hold many roles.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Arts in History program.

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