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Explain why it is both necessary and helpful to study the context of prior history Essay

Explain why it is both necessary and helpful to study the context of prior history, especially the experiences of participants in that history, in order to understand what is valued by these participants. Also, what resources will be most helpful to you as a student of history?


It has long been said that, “if we don’t know where we are coming from we will not know where we are going”. In other words knowledge of prior history allows us to avoid making past mistakes and serve as a guide to the future. In addition a well-rounded understanding of history can help us to make more informed present and future decisions. “History requires us to think outside of our own experiences in time and place, fostering empathetic thinking, appreciation of diversity, and understanding of the relationship between context and judgment” (The National History Center, 2013).

Valuable and beneficial sources of history include Primary and Secondary sources. Primary sources as it relates to history are the “raw materials” gathered from the same time period of the topic/event, which forms the foundation of historical research and writing. Secondary sources are gathered from primary resources and have been analyzed then presented in the form of books or articles by historians.

History can be thought of as never changing; but history, like memories actually is always changing. Though the dates and statistics may not change, how they are interpreted can vary. For example, historians are always at work re-evaluating the past, asking new questions, examining new sources and finding new meanings in old documents to highlight the perspective of new knowledge and experience for a better understanding of the past (McNeill, 2013).

Knowledge of prior history allows for a better understanding of the “who, what, were, and when” at that particular time in history. We do not always learn from the mistakes that history has shown us; as observed in recent events with the war on terror where, the United states seem to have repeated the same mistakes in Iraq as were made in Afghanistan. One can argue that if knowledge of the past has been collected and learned over the centuries, then poverty, injustice, immorality and war should not exist. For this reason it is important to recognize that knowledge of the past does not assure avoidance of its failures and mistakes, however understanding the past and its patterns improves one’s ability to analyze the present and make better predictions of future outcomes.

As a student engaging in the study of history valuable sources as mentioned in the introduction are Primary sources which include personal diaries, journals, letters or videos from witnesses of the event. Secondary sources can be considered as arguments/interpretation of a primary source and include library databases, textbooks, journal articles and news articles.


It is both necessary and helpful to study the context of prior history as it creates a view of other people’s feelings and opinions, allowing people to place situations in an appropriate context in the present. Secondary sources of history are valuable. However to best understand the context of history and the values of the participants, nothing is as valuable as a primary resource which include the personal accounts of people having experienced the event.


The National History Center. (2013). The history major and liberal education. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 95(2), Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-sp09/le-sp09_history.cfm

McNeill, W. (2013). Why study history?. Retrieved from http://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/archives/why-study-history-(1985

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