Ever wondered what the point is in learning all about the things that have been and gone? History has a lot to teach us about where we come from and where we might go in the future, and you’ll need the skills you gain from studying history throughout your life.
You’ve probably be learning a bit about history since you were very young, although you might not have thought of it as History, exactly. When we read stories about the way the world used to be, or watch movies about steam trains and flying English nannies, then we’re learning a little bit about the way things used to be. First Nations people across the globe share their cultural history when they welcome us to country or share their dreaming stories, and this also teaches us about their history.
The places where we live, worship, and visit also have a visible history that we start learning about when we are young – museums, schools, and places of worship often occupy buildings built by those who have long since passed away, using historical methods and materials, and this living history informs how we think of what has gone before. We’re also surrounded by our world’s natural history – every valley shows the scars of old waterways, and we live in landscapes dotted with ancient volcanos and mountain ranges.
But it’s not enough to just live in these spaces – the study of history helps us understand what has happened, and teaches us the skills to critically reflect on the evidence to reach a decision about what took place.
History teaches us critical thinking
One of the most in-demand skills is the ability to think critically. Entrepreneurs are masters of critical thinking, and employers want employees who can think deeply about their work and reach new, innovative, efficient solutions for themselves.
When we learn about history, we examine the ‘facts’ and enquire about where they came from, who’s point of view they represent, and what bearing they have on our understanding of the world. This process teaches us to think deeply about what might have taken place and what it means in our lives.
Looking to the past shows us what may come in the future
Unless you have a crystal ball, there’s no way to know what the future may hold. Instead, we look to what has happened in the past for clues that give us an idea of what may happen next.
Take the recent global pandemic for example. Historians and scientists knew from the data that there was a possibility of a global pandemic taking place, although they were unable to predict exactly when it would happen. They also looked to historical pandemics to work out what sort of things may happen as a result of the pandemic, and for lessons about what they could do to minimise the damage. Even though it took place over a century earlier, infectious disease experts and policy makers looked back to the Spanish Flu pandemic for drivers of transmission and suggestions for mitigation methods.
How will you use history in the real world?
You may not need to recall the events that led to World War One on a daily basis, but studying history ensures that you know the basics about what has taken place in the past, and are able to find the details when you need them.
The critical thinking and future projection skills you’ll gain will help you make decisions about your life, like where you want to live, and what kind of job you want to do, but these skills are also really useful in the workplace.
Here are three ways you might use your history skills at work:
1. Past performance can help when planning strategy
If you end up working on projects (financial, engineering, science, business, design, artistic, anything really) then you’ll probably be involved in strategic planning. This is the process where you look at what you’ve done so far, and then work out what you want to do next. You’ll use the investigative skills you’ll learn in history class to find out what you, and other people who have gone before you, have done in similar situations, then project forward to make a plan about where you might go from here.
2. History teaches you how to investigate
If you’d like to work in criminology, law, policing, the intelligence services, data analysis, or even politics, then you’ll need to understand how to investigate. This means you find sources of evidence, evaluate them, and them integrate them into your understanding of the topic. History teaches you the skills to do just this, but instead of investigating a series of recent casino heists, you’ll be looking into why they built the Great Wall of China.
3. History can teach you how to present an argument
Which is why people who enjoy history at school sometimes go into law. Once you’ve done your research and collected your ideas, you need to present your findings and justify your position, and we often do this in the form of an essay. When you do this in class, you are practising for the real world, when you will need to do the same thing but with a different topic. So, in high school you’ll be arguing about the impacts of colonialisation 300 years ago, while at work you could be advocating for your position on a business proposal, or research grant application.
How will you use history in your life?
You might not go into a role where you need to write lengthy proposals all the time, but chances are you’ll need some of the skills you gain in history. If you want to learn more, check out these resources: