When we approach a problem or question, it is important to look at its history. History reveals the problem’s previous approaches, what worked, and what didn’t, thus informing innovation, creation, and reconciliation on an individual, interpersonal, national, and global scale. History gives us a perspective on progress, regress, what we’ve achieved, and what we can accomplish. It isn’t a “what to know” type of study, but rather a study asking why: why things have happened, why they’re happening now, and how the future may unfold. History is the ultimate way to inform decisions, teach perspectives, and provide us a sense of identity; it should be appreciated in proportion to its monumental value.
History connects us to human beings. At Westmont, we pride ourselves on being a Christian liberal arts college, based on the inherent belief that everyone is created in the image of God and therefore has value. History gives us context and background for us to better understand human beings. History fosters empathy; we live in a globalized world in which war, economic crisis, and government decisions have ripple effects to surrounding countries and the world as a whole. Through empathy, we better understand the world in which we live and the humans within it.
History is powerful. It connects us to our personal past and broadens our understanding of ourselves, others, and this world. It is organically woven through every study, every religion, every conflict, and every point of view; it informs us in an effort to reform corrupt and damaging aspects of our society. You cannot avoid history: it can be found in in science, mathematics, business, relationships, communication, politics, etc.
Despite the demonstrated importance of history, the percentage of history majors has dropped significantly since 2008. Researchers and universities are trying to understand why. The American Historical Association looked at multiple hypotheses suggesting the 2008 financial crisis moved students towards “more practical majors” like business or STEM; in today’s climate, many people view history as impractical. Another thought is that history majors are becoming obsolete in the face of “newer” majors like gender studies, African-American studies, civil rights, and human justice.
In addition, I hear many people in my life, in and outside of Westmont, declare that history is “boring” or “irrelevant.” They ask questions like, “Why do I have to study history when it’s not even a part of my major?” or “Why do we have to know history from so long ago?” Students have come to view history as something that does not apply to their life, when in actuality, history is intertwined through every aspect of their life.
We are fortunate that Westmont acknowledges the importance of history and strives to share that with its students. We have two official history GE requirements: Perspectives on World History and Thinking Historically. Besides these two, history intersects with almost all GE requirements; the study of history is a big part of every GE section. In Westmont’s academic catalog there are 25 majors and minors that require some form of history including Physics, Music, Biology, Chemistry, and Economics and Business. Ultimately, every study is rooted in a foundation of history, whether it be how psychological treatment has improved and changed over time, discoveries of the atom dating back to the fifth century BCE, or how modern day business practices came to fruition.
To counteract this trend of decreasing appreciation for history, institutions must approach it in a holistic way. History is a story and it is important that we not approach it as a disjointed series of facts and events. For example, you cannot look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without first understanding World War II. You cannot understand World War II without understanding the peace settlement of World War I, which also affected the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in turn something that still affects politics, international relationships, and religious views today.
Without the study of history, we would lack empathy, compassion, and an understanding of our world and humanity as a whole. History is woven into each part of our life and how our world can progress and improve.