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  • If you had the misfortune to do too much of it at school,

  • you'll probably remember one thing about history: just how boring it can be.

  • You might harbour painful memories of the 100 Years War, the War of Spanish Succession,

  • Crop Rotation in the Middle Ages or - heaven forbid - the good deeds of Florence Nightingale.

  • As a result, it wouldn't be surprising if - nowadays - you tended to steer well clear of the whole topic.

  • But that would be a pity. The real reason why history is so boring is that we're not clear about what it should be for.

  • Here's the big reason why history matters:

  • it matters because it can provide us with solutions to many of the problems of the present.

  • At its best, history is there to introduce us to some of the things we need but that aren't sufficiently visible in the world today.

  • As a society, we're very obsessed by what we're up to right now.

  • Unknowingly, we're hugely biased towards the present.

  • The news - which is about the most prestigious force in the world today -

  • circles obsessively around some of the things that have happened in the last five minutes.

  • And yet, many of the most important things that we need to nourish, sustain and inspire us are a lot older.

  • What we nowadays need above all else are GOOD IDEAS and history is full of them.

  • Imagine you're dissatisfied with aspects of contemporary Capitalism.

  • It might help hugely to read about the HISTORY of the Levellers,

  • a group of English radicals writing and acting between 1645 and 1650.

  • Or if you question what the point of going on holiday is,

  • you might dramatically enrich your thoughts by considering the HISTORY of pilgrimage,

  • especially the motives which people had for trekking off to visit distant shrines.

  • History teaches us that THINGS CAN CHANGE.

  • People haven't always been as they are now: materialistic and work obsessed,

  • unable to build nice architecture, over-concerned with beingconnectedor hung up on being absurdly thin.

  • There's an annoying saying that goes: THOSE WHO DON'T KNOW HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.

  • But that's suggesting the only thing history is full of is mistakes.

  • Yet it's as fair to say, those who don't know history won't be able to IMPROVE the present.

  • History can also teach us COURAGE.

  • It's easy to feel, when you're pressed up against the present, that things are exceptionally awful right now,

  • but they rarely are, once you open the lens wide enough.

  • The present isn't unusual in its levels of mediocrity and compromise.

  • Once you read the letters, the old guys were just as bad.

  • And though our challenges are of course great, they aren't exceptional -

  • when compared with say, those facing the survivors of the sack of Rome or the Lisbon earthquake.

  • History ends up as a tool for the APPRECIATION of some of our advantages which is easy to miss.

  • It can teach us to judge our society against other societies rather than against our ideals.

  • Of course the European Union has problems, but the Habsburg Empire had them too and many more.

  • Our governments are deeply imperfect, but there have been worse.

  • Traffic is terrible, but so was the siege of Leningrad.

  • History can console.

  • Getting clearer about what history is for should change how the subject is taught.

  • In the future, we should treat history a little like a doctor treats a medicine cabinet.

  • Before diving into history, we'd first have to work out what was wrong with us, what we were lacking in the here and now.

  • We might be diagnosed for a lack of courage, or a spoiled nature or a hesitation about whether to marry.

  • And we should be prescribed history accordingly.

  • For their part, historians themselves should get clearer about what problems in the present they're trying to solve.

  • They should explicitly aim to tell us things about the past that can help us with issues of today.

  • Not the past for its sake, but the past for our sakes.

  • Good history should always mean: history with solutions or consolations for today.

  • Now that could be interesting

If you had the misfortune to do too much of it at school,

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B1 UK history present hugely clearer world today obsessed

What is History for?

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