History has been called “race-memory”. Just as a man’s memory links his past life to the present, so the history of a nation is its memory of its past. How could we live as individuals without memory?
There have been strange cases of complete loss of memory. A man has suddenly forgotten his name and who he is. His past life has become an absolute blank to him. In such a case, a man has to begin life all over again. He really loses his identity, and has to learn to be another person. In the same way, if a nation knows nothing of its history, it has lost its ” nation-memory”, and so its identity. It is practically a new nation, with all to learn.
And if we know nothing of the history of our country, we cannot have the true feeling of nationhood; for we cannot enter into its traditions, its national feelings and ambitions. A knowledge of its history gives us the key to the spirit of our nation.
The present has grown out of the past, as the flower has developed from the seed. We cannot understand properly our present national customs, thoughts and ideals, and our present institutions, if we do not know how these things have come to be what they are.
The British Parliament, for example, has at the back of it a history of centuries of gradual development. No one can hope fully to understand the peculiarly British system of “government by free discussion”, which has become the model of all democratic countries, without a knowledge of that long history. And in all national matters, it is the history of the past that explains the present.
Moreover the future will grow out of the present, as the present has grown out of the past. What we shall be and do as a nation depends on what we are and do now; and that has resulted from what we were and did in the past. So statesmen must know the history of their country, so as to be able to save their nation committing again the mistakes of the past, and guide it on right lines for the future.
These are the chief uses of history. But, in addition, the study of history can give us much pleasure and instruction. There is much in the annals of any country which is as interesting and romantic as anything in novels and works of fiction.
A study of history, moreover, broadens the mind, enlarges the sympathies and quickens the imagination. As we read of the great deeds done by our forefathers, and the achievements of other nations, our mind becomes peopled with many noble and great figures. We come to feel a deeper interest, not only in our own people, but in all mankind. We understand the noble words of the Roman poet :- “I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me”.