Barbara Tuchman, Daniel Boorstin, David McCullough, Mark Noll, Will Durant, Simon Schama, Paul Johnson, George Marsden, J.M Roberts, Fernand Braudel, and…

Well, I’d better stop.

These are some of my favorite authors, and they all write a particular kind of book.

They write history.

And it seems that many people don’t know who they are.

In a recent opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Norm Augustine laments the weakening emphasis on the study of history. Specifically the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which discovered that of all the subjects, including science, math, technology, engineering and economics, performance in history came in dead last.

Why would the CEO of Lockheed Martin which employs 80,000 engineers (Augustine’s day job when not writing op-ed pieces) care about history? 

His answer is telling: 

“It’s not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently…Far more than simply convening the story of a country or civilization, an education in history can create critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information and articulate their findings.”

Precisely.

And that is why I love history. It provides a singular source for knowledge and wisdom; it alone provides the comprehensive assessment and analysis of our world that our day so desperately needs.

As I wrote earlier this year, history is not simply a cascade of names and dates, divorced from meaning and relevance. It is the story of our world. Just as learning about your family of origin helps put the pieces of a larger puzzle together in terms of who you are now, so understanding the flow of events and ideas from centuries past brings clarity and insight to the present moment of our day. 

There’s an old adage suggesting that the one who forgets history is condemned to repeat it. Perhaps more to the point is that the one who ignores history is condemned to be swept away by the flash flood of culture.

History lets us swim upstream.

James Emery White

Sources     

James Emery White, Serious Times (InterVarsity Press).

“The Education Our Economy Needs” by Norm Augustine, The Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2011. Read online.

James Emery White, “Why History Matters,” Vol. 7, No. 17, churchandculture.org.

Editor’s Note

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