Why History?

 We will all read something written hundreds of years before we were born throughout our high school careers. Whether it’s Shakespeare, William Bird’s diary, or a Treaty of Versailles, everyone ends up reading a plethora of historical documents and primary sources throughout high school. However, it can be hard to comprehend what these documents are trying to say. Since the texts are often written in archaic languages with different speech patterns, they can be hard to analyze. It would be much easier for a teacher to explain these sources’ content or watch a YouTube video about the event. Yet, there is an intrinsic value to reading historical documents for yourself. By reading these texts, you gain an understanding of the people and society from which you are reading about, develop essential skills, and create your own evaluation and opinions of history. 

           The interesting thing about older texts is trying to understand the mentality of the people writing them. Primary sources give us invaluable glimpses back into the past, allowing us to see what life was like then. By reading these texts, you gain a greater understanding of what human society used to be like. It can sometimes be hard to connect with history when it is only in a textbook or being taught to you. However, by reading a primary source, you can experience a moment of history through someone else’s eyes and understand their life that much better. Historical documents also reflect what society was like back then. The values of a certain era can be seen from an author’s word choice and how they decided to describe events. Humans all have their own thoughts and feelings about what is happening around them, so by reading firsthand accounts, we in the modern world can gain more perspectives about events and how they were perceived. Reading historical documents for ourselves allows us to understand the past more than we could from simply reading a summary of events.  

           Another reason it is essential to read historical texts is that you gain critical thinking and reasoning skills. While it can be challenging to read something written centuries ago, especially anything written in Old English, by trying to puzzle out what the author is trying to say, you engage your brain and help strengthen skills used when reading modern works. Furthermore, spending time looking for the meaning can feel rewarding when you finish analyzing a text. Similarly, because the writing can sometimes be difficult to understand, it allows for discussions about the meaning and enables different perspectives on the text from other people. Reading and talking about historical texts strengthens your ability to comprehend complicated passages and overall critical thinking skills.

           A third reason to read historical texts is that they allow you to come to your own conclusions about history. Like all things in life, history is not black and white, but sometimes events and people are simplified so history can be told briefly. By looking at primary sources, you can come to your own conclusions about the morality of events and people and determine if they are accurately portrayed. Primary sources are often biased, but these biases allow you to understand more about the past and how people justified certain things to themselves and others. When you look directly at the source, you get to see a particular viewpoint of history and form your own opinions about whether that author was right or wrong. 

           Overall, while historical sources might sometimes be a pain to read, the overall gains outweigh the costs. Examining historical sources allows you to see directly what human society was like, improve critical skills used across disciplines, and determine how you want to view history. Historical documents let you see the biased accounts of history and are invaluable when trying to understand the cause and effect of events. History and the way we tell it, matters and reading historical texts is essential to creating greater understanding.