Any subject of study needs justification: its advocates must explain why it’s worth attention. Most widely accepted subjects—and history is certainly one of them—attract some people who simply like the information and modes of thought involved. But audiences less spontaneously drawn to the subject and more doubtful about why to bother need to know what the purpose is.

Historians do not perform heart transplants, improve highway design, or arrest criminals. In a society that quite correctly expects education to serve useful purposes and lead students to vocations, the functions of history can seem more difficult to define than those of engineering or medicine. History is in fact very useful, actually indispensable, but the products of historical study are less tangible, sometimes less immediate, than those that stem from some other disciplines.

Teaching and learning history is much less focused on the importance of learning about the facts, but rather the methods and skills that the study of history can enhance the individual with. The person who could reel off the date of the Norman conquest of England (1066) or the name of the person who came up with the theory of evolution at about the same time that Darwin did (Wallace) was deemed superior—a better candidate for law school or even a business promotion. This was not due to the fact that knowing the date of the Norman conquest was beneficial to a more skilled job, but rather the employers were able to identify the skills in debating, analysis, and understanding that history is able to teach.

Knowledge of historical facts has been used as a screening device in many societies, from China to the United States, and the habit is still with us to some extent. Unfortunately, this use can encourage mindless memorization—a real but not very appealing aspect of the discipline. History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty.

“Those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana- Spanish philosopher.