“What we do about history matters,” observed Gerda Lerner, a founder of the field of women's history. “The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are ‘the lessons of history’? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past.”
History is a critical and analytical method of inquiry into our collective past based on our cumulative experience, informed understanding, and careful judgment. It teaches us to look beyond appearance, to evaluate something with clarity and disinterest, to discover and investigate all the causes of an event and evaluate their relative importance. History teaches how to discern the relationship between cause and effect, to analyze motives, to determine agency and assign responsibility, and to understand change over time. These general habits of sorting through the past allow us to appreciate the profound differences between ourselves and others and to imagine (and to some degree experience) the world as men and women have in times now lost and in places we shall never see.