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IDS 403 1-3 The Importance of History

History is, at the very least, the story of how the present came into existence. The lives that we live today are dependent on what came before. The purpose of this class is to help you understand how the academic study of history works, but you should also understand how history influences the world, culture, and community in which you live.

A major aspect of the work historians do is interpreting the historical significance and relevance of past people and events to society. However, is history written for its own sake as an objective analysis of the past, or should it be written in a manner that helps people understand the world they live in today (Novick, 1988)? This is a question historians have grappled with for decades. When historians study primary documents to produce secondary sources (e.g., books, articles, documentaries) about historical topics, they must be aware of how presentism impacts how they determine historical importance and meaning. Presentism refers to how the time period in which a historian writes his or her history impacts how he or she interprets the past. For example, a historian who argues that colonial destruction of tea in the Boston Harbor to protest British taxation was illogical because of the harsh punishments rendered to Massachusetts by King George III might be influenced by presentism because he or she is not examining the events of the Boston Tea Party from the context of the growing conflict between the colonies and England in 1773 that caused the Sons of Liberty to believe that destroying the tea would settle the dispute over representation in Parliament.

It may seem obvious that the present is built on the past. The precise relationship between the past and the present is not always clear, however. The job of the historian is to demonstrate that relationship by analyzing how things change over time. In this course, you will consider historical events and their connections to the present. Later, this will take the form of a research project, but for now, we will consider how history can affect the lives of individuals and the entire nation.

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