5 months, 1 week ago

The Importance of History and a trip to the Archives

From being tiny I have always enjoyed learning about History. Whether it was in the classroom or not, I was fascinated by the past; and if I am honest I feel I always will be. With all this interest and ambition I decided to take the next step and do a degree in the subject, hence where I am now.

However, when considering why I wanted to study History at a higher level so many people asked me the same list of questions. "But where will a history degree get you", "what is the point in studying something you can't use in everyday life" and most frequently I was asked, "how will the past benefit your future?". So, with all of these questions buzzing around my head, I came to a few conclusions.

History is important and in my opinion, everyone should study history, at least to GCSE level. Studying History allows skills such as analysis to develop, however, that is exactly what Universities want to see when they read personal statements; I want to try, through this post, to show you why History really is so important. Take the First World War for example. Yes, by studying this period of History you are able to learn about trench warfare, battle tactics, the number of casualties, the impacts and outcomes of the post war world, as well as the causes and reasons behind it.

Yet, there is so much more to this one period of History than just facts, figures and details. It might sound obvious but I feel sometimes when trying to make sense of something, we can often remove the human elements. For instance, when describing the First World War, I listed a number of elements that spring to mind when considering historical warfare. However, when trying to understand elements of the past and digest them, it is easy to forget that these things happened to real people and affected their lives. Some would say that because of this it is cruel to analyse the past because of these stories being criticised and due to this they could be seen as being contaminated, with other peoples view points being placed onto the original stories of peoples lives. However, without the work of historians and people studying history there is the possibility that some of these stories could be forgotten and in my opinion, that is a crueller fate even still.

Yes, there is a danger with people placing their own opinions onto primary accounts of events that they may then be taken as fact along with the evidence, but how else are we supposed to understand and make sense of our past without at least attempting to look further into it and by doing that we must place our opinions onto it.

History is important because it allows us to make sense of our past and hopefully learn from it. Even if the event you are reading into and studying doesn't directly connect to your personal past and heritage that doesn't mean it should be dismissed as you may struggle to find a connection with it. In my opinion, this is more of a reason to research into that area further. So what if that area of the past doesn't connect to you, it connects to someone. At the end of the day, history is a study of the people. Are you not a person? So, therefore, it still will have a connection to you, simply due to the human qualities and empathetic values we as human beings possess.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Durham University archives. Although I felt very lucky to receive this privilege, I was a little daunted for what my trip would entail. I have always thought of archives as dark, dank places, that smell a bit funny and inhabit old men. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that generally, my impressions were wrong. The archives (although they did inhabit a few older men), were light and bright and chilled to the correct temperature to ensure papers and documents lasted longer. Generally, things were stored in boxes related to their collection, for instance, there was a lot of the history of the Sudan at the Durham archives. I was also able to see how documents from the archives were repaired and sustained for the future which was interesting; exciting as it was clever to see how they tried to source the most similar materials to the original to repair the damage items in the most authentic manner. I was finally able to witness to digitalisation of books and photographs. This was right up my street in terms of interest, simply because more often than not when doing research for essays and presentations at university the first port of call for the majority of students in the online library. Seeing how the items were handled and photographed on a special book cradle (so not to damage the artefact) and the images were taken next to a colour chart, to show the authenticity of the papers and how they had worn and changed over time was fascinating. Similarly, being able to see the highly detailed photographs uploaded online, in perfect order, as if reading a modern day book on Kindle or Google Books, was for a budding historian like myself, thoroughly exciting.

Altthoroughlyenjoyed my visit to the Durham University archives I understand that some people struggle to get into history. They believe it will be "heavy", there are so many accessible ways to get into history. For instance something I have been loving doing when I get ready in the mornings is listening to podcasts. Dan Snow's History Hit is definitely one of my favourites. I came across an episode called the Women that flew for Hitler and I loved it. Similarly the Passchendaele, Dunkirk and Emilia Airheart episodes are equally interesting. Something that also makes History accessible has to be films and television programmes. I find these often spark and interest for me to then do further research into a topic that I may have been introduced to via film. Historical novels are also a good way in, due to the fictional element, however, please remember that all of these adaptations are generally not 100% factually accurate.

To wrap this post up I want to make 3 points.

1. History is important for everyone because it affects everyone, in one way or another.

2. History is important because how can we learn from the past if we have not studied it.

3. History is important because it would be a crime to not know the stories of people before us. Imagine living in a world where all you knew was the present, hard to imagine I know, but try and imagine a world where we just took everything we had for granted in terms of technology, our civil rights, our countries boundaries etc. and never stopped to think how these things came to be.

Thank you so much for reading this blog post, I really hope it has inspired just one of you to go out and give History a go, even just in small steps!