There are at least two good reasons for studying History: one social and the other personal. The social argument arises from the great importance of the past for present political and social life. What happened during the fall of Rome, the English Reformation, or the Industrial Revolution continues to colour the way we see ourselves today. Israelis and Arabs, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, Azeris and Armenians, Irish Protestants and Catholics claim the same soil and assert their respective rights on historical grounds.
It is our job as historians to investigate those and other questions with the tools perfected in the course of the past century or so: accuracy and faithfulness in transcription and attribution; precision and clarity in citation; and lucidity and charm in expression. We study the past using reason, not prejudice, and offer the small voice of sanity in a violent and crazy world. The social importance of history can be seen in the way dictators of every culture immediately try to control and direct its practice.
The other good reason for studying History is what it does for us. History belongs both to the social sciences and to the humanities. Just as individual people are both objects and subjects, so is History, in that it incorporates the study of both art and science. In History we sometimes have to count or crunch numbers; sometimes we imagine what a place might have looked like to its inhabitants. How we do this tells us who we are.
Our choice of subject matter, our approach to it, our assumptions and blind spots, all reflect our nature. The past acts as a kind of glass in which we see ourselves and in so doing it can help us transcend ourselves. We take a few steps away from the narrowness of our age, gender, class, background, culture, language, religion, region and epoch, and in this struggle for self-awareness we become more conscious, more thoughtful and more human.