History (from Greek, historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past, particularly how it relates to humans. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of information about these events. Scholars who write about history are called historians. Events occurring prior to written record are considered prehistory.
- History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.
- Konrad Adenauer (attributed), Lend Me Your Ears: Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations (2010), 4th edition, edited by Antony Jay
- Escapists take refuge in cliches such as “Human nature will never change” and “History always repeats itself!” Nevertheless, human nature is changing before our eyes, and quite new history is being made. This century has seen world war for the first time. It has seen a world civilization threatened with self-destruction, not only through war but through the exploitation of all the kingdoms in nature. It has also seen the beginnings of international alignment and collaboration. It has seen the leaders of the people struggling with great patience to work out a new political approach from the ‘world’ angle. It has seen the people themselves taking increasing individual and collective action in order to obtain a world organization or government, a universal religion, or a universal language. Let us avoid being misled by the apparent irresponsibility of the crowd with its absorption in crime films, dog racing and gambling, and its immorality and apathy!... It is traditional for the outstanding leaders of humanity to work for the shaping of history. It is a new procedure when a large and ever growing section of the public begins to take responsibility for the trend of evolution to such purpose that the community is increasingly honeycombed with progressive movements of every possible kind. This is the new element in history which constitutes a mighty landmark in the development of mankind.
- There are two ways of summing up world history, the inner way and the outer way. Both have been at the mercy of scribes and policies. We must use our divinely-given intuition in order to arrive near to the truth. Let us begin by realizing that the story of human evolution has progressed steadily from complete exclusiveness to an ever broadening inclusiveness. At first it was built up around the self-interest of the family unit. Later the ring-pass-not enlarged to include the tribe. The tribal communities finally produced the small state or nation. The aggressive self-interest of nations eventually produced Empires. Everything outside of the Empire was potential enemy or potential prey.
Finally came the conceptions of Federation and of Commonwealth. This saw the emergence of a new concept of co-operation instead of tyranny, and of the rights of the individual instead of those of the autocrat. Nevertheless, even the most benign and powerful of these nation-groups had still to consider everything outside of itself as potential enemy, and therefore self-interest still ruled.
- The past is a pointer to the future. If we can understand the past and follow the trend of development throughout history we shall be more sure of where we are going. History tells us of wars and conquests and empires and revolutions, of cities and cultures, and of religions and persecutions. Yet actually it is a rather superficial survey. It leaves out almost entirely one vital part of the picture — the most important part. It has very little to say of man’s purpose in living, of his understanding of the reason of his existence and of his conception of life around him, and his interpretation of the mysteries of creation and evolution. So little does history say about this aspect of man — the mainspring and motive of his living — that we are left guessing about the most important part of the story — the extent of man’s actual knowledge throughout the ages... We are given superficial and rather materialistic details of the outward forms and the bitter strife which accompanied the development of the various religions as they were interpreted and practised by the people, much of which leaves us with an impression of brutal and bigoted primitiveness.
- The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great 'continents'. Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of Mathematics and the continent of Physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of History.
- I was not speaking of minor ripples in the mainstream of history—certainly those are ruled by chance. But the broad current moves quite inexorably, I assure you.
- History repeats itself.
- Anonymous proverb; popularized since the mid-1800s; already considered clichéd by 1865. "The most solemn humbug which does duty as a profound historical reflection is, that history repeats itself." Harper's, volume 30, p. 124, 1865
- Widely attributed to various famous authors, who expressed similar sentiments – see Marx and Hegel quotes below.
- An early attested form is "history repeats itself never" (reversing it), 1854, William Howitt The history of magic, Volume 2, by Joseph Ennemoser, translation William Howitt, 1854, p. 86
- History is about the past. Yet it exists only in the present – the moment of its creation as history provides us with a narrative constructed after the events with which it is concerned. The narrative must then relate to the moment of its creation as much as its historical subject. History presents an historian with the task of producing a dialogue between the past and the present. But as these temporal co-ordinates cannot be fixed, history becomes a continuous interaction between the historian and the past. As such, history can be seen as a process of evaluation whereby the past is always coloured by the intellectual fashions and philosophical concerns of the present. This shifting perspective on the past is matched by the fluid status of the past itself.
- Dana Arnold, Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
- The recognition of the role and importance of subjectivity in the construction of histories does, by implication, negate the possibility for objectivity in the writing of history. But there will always be historical narrative and, consequently, a narrative voice, be it hidden in the syntactical structure of the writing by, for instance, the absence of first person or the use of simple past tense. But this is a sleight of hand which gives the reader a sense of immediate contact with the past without the presence of an interlocutor. This apparently ‘unmediated’ contact gives history a kind of privileged status of objective knowledge
- Dana Arnold Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
- Historical reality is then a 'referential illusion', in which we try to grasp the reality (the referent of language) that we believe lies beyond the barrier of the linguistic construction of its narratives. In this way history becomes a Myth or an ideology as it purports to be reality. Indeed, storytelling is often seen as one of the most important functions of writing histories and fundamental to the nature of the discipline.
- Dana Arnold, Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
- Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind.
- W. H. Auden, The Dyers Hand, "D.H. Lawrence" (1962)
- Political history is far too criminal and pathological to be a fit subject of study for the young. Children should acquire their heroes and villains from fiction.
- W. H. Auden, A Certain World (1970)
- All things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Bk. II, Ch. 14 (c. 121–180 AD)
- Our prevailing notions of history are exceedingly narrow and exceedingly selective. And basically the process of selection is one that aims to reassure ourselves that the myths that we believe in can be sustained. ... Recognize the truths, the realities that I want to and ignore the ones that I find inconvenient.
- Andrew Bacevich, (May 27, 2023)"Bidding farewell to the American century | The Chris Hedges Report". The Real News Network, YouTube. (quote at 12:40 of 32:51 in video)
- Ghosts of my history will follow me there/And the winds of the old days will blow through my hair
- Joan Baez, Winds of the Old Days 1975
- History is of two kinds—there is the official history taught in schools, a lying compilation ad usum delphini; and there is the secret history which deals with the real causes of events—a scandalous chronicle.
- Journalism is the first rough draft of history.
- Originally stated in slightly different forms “News/The press [is the] … first rough draft of history”, this form dates at least to the 1940s, and was most likely popularized by Alan Barth, as an editorial writer for the Washington Post in the 1940s. The sentiment appears several times in the editorial pages of the Post in that era, with the earliest citation from Barth being 1943:
- News is only the first rough draft of history.
- The great event of this period, the great trauma, is this decline of strong referentials, these death pangs of the real and of the rational that open onto an age of simulation. Whereas so many generations, and particularly the last, lived in the march of history, in the euphoric or catastrophic expectation of a revolution—today one has the impression that history has retreated, leaving behind it an indifferent nebula, traversed by currents, but emptied of references. It is into this void that the phantasms of a past history recede, the panoply of events, ideologies, retro fashions—no longer so much because people believe in them or still place some hope in them, but simply to resurrect the period when at least there was history, at least there was violence (albeit fascist), when at least life and death were at stake.
- Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (1981), pp. 43—44
- The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? (Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.) Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.
- Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End (1992), "The Event Strike", p. 26.
- Take one of Voltaire's swift shining shafts of wit: "History is after all only a pack of tricks we play on the dead." Ah, yes, how true it is, we say; and we are astonished that Voltaire could have been so profound. Then we realize that he did not really mean it. To him it was a witticism intended to brand dishonest historians, whereas we perceive that it formulated, in the neatest possible way, a profound truth — the truth that all historical writing, even the most honest, is unconsciously subjective, since every age is bound, in spite of itself, to make the dead perform whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.
- Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932), Ch. II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971, pp. 43–4.
- Mrs. Lintott: Now. How do you define history, Mr. Rudge?
Rudge: Can I speak freely, Miss? Without being hit?
Mrs. Lintott: I will protect you.
Rudge: How do I define history? It's just one fucking thing after another.
- History must not be written with bias, and both sides must be given, even if there is only one side.
- John Betjeman, First and Last Loves (1952)
- HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.
- If we disown history we are at its mercy. To have a reasonable knowledge of the past is to possess an anchor which is likely to prevent us from being swept towards false ideas about the present and future.
- Geoffrey Blainey, The Great Seesaw: A New View of the Western World, 1750-2000 (1988)
- Unpredictable events, or the coincidence of vital events happening side by side, play their part in history. In the emerging of the United States of America, the South American nations, South Africa, Canada and Australia the unforeseen mixture of events was especially powerful in the final decades of the 18th century.
- Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the World (2000)
- The essence of studying history is that, as best we can, we try to wear the shoes and put on the spectacles worn by people of the past. We try to see the obstacles and dilemmas they struggled against or evaded. We also hope that the future will try to understand why we made blunders, and learn from failures and achievements of our era.
- With all regimes, there is what might be called an official interpretation of the past that makes it appear defective or just a step on the way to the present regime.
- I have read somewhere or other, in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, I think, that history is philosophy teaching by examples.
- The dignity of history.
- Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, On the Study and Use of History. Letter V. Fielding, Tom Jones, Book XI, Chapter II.
- History is not to serve as the handmaid of a particular school of thought. History must be impartial and objective. To rewrite the history, according to the views which are popular or which are necessary for bolstering up nationalistic egoism or jingoism is perversion of history.
- Bombay High Court, August 2, 1965, from its judgment in the case of Anant Janardhan Karandikar vs. State. Quoted in "Gandhi predicted communal discord would poison education, distort history", The Leaflet , September 5, 2021.
- On September 20, 1792, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (who had accompanied the Duke of Weimar on a military expedition to Paris) saw the finest army of Europe inexplicably repulsed at Valmy by some French militiamen, and said to his disconcerted friends, “In this place and on this day, a new epoch in the history of the world is beginning, and we shall be able to say that we have been present at its origin.” Since that time historic days have been numerous, and one of the tasks of the governments has been to fabricate them or to simulate them with an abundance of preconditioning propaganda followed by relentless publicity.
- The Modesty of History by Jorge Luis Borges from Borges, a reader: a selection from the writings of Jorge Luis Borges by Borges p. 246
- Always the victor writes the history of the vanquished. He who beats distorts the faces of the beaten. The weaker depart from this world and the lies remain.
- Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I know people who can't even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view.
- History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy.
- History gives us a kind of chart, and we dare not surrender even a small rushlight in the darkness. The hasty reformer who does not remember the past will find himself condemned to repeat it.
- John Buchan, general introduction to The Nations of Today, a series of popular histories published in 1923–1924 under Buchan's editorship. Each work contained Buchan's introduction. Reported in Great Britain (1923), vol. 1, p. 12.
- What we learn from history is that people don't learn from history — and you certainly see that in financial markets all the time.
- Warren Buffett, (August 2, 2018)"Warren Buffett: 2004 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting Part 1". Hioim, YouTube. (quote at 1:24:47 of 2:33:25)
- History is on every occasion the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.
- Jacob Burckhardt, Judgements on History and Historians (1929), Section 84: Introduction to the History of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- What want these outlaws conquerors should have
But History's purchased page to call them great?
- History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, 'Can't you remember anything I told you?' and lets fly with a club.
- John W. Campbell, Analog Science Fiction/Fact magazine(1965)
- History, a distillation of rumor.
- Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, A History (1837), Part I, Book VII, Chapter V.
- Happy the people whose annals are tiresome.
- Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, A History (1837), Part I, Book II, Chapter I.
- No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.
- Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise, and is gifted with an eye and a soul.
- Thomas Carlyle, Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, Introduction, Chapter I.
- History is the essence of innumerable Biographies.
- Thomas Carlyle, Essays, On History.
- History, as it lies at the root of all science, is also the first distinct product of man's spiritual nature; his earliest expression of what can be called Thought.
- Thomas Carlyle, Essays, On History.
- All history … is an inarticulate Bible.
- Thomas Carlyle, Latter Day Pamphlets. 405.
- All history is a Bible—a thing stated in words by me more than once.
- Thomas Carlyle, Quoted in Froude's Early Life of Carlyle.
- Happy the People whose Annals are blank in History-Books.
- Thomas Carlyle, Life of Frederick the Great, Book XVI, Chapter I.
- The historian and the facts of history are necessary to one another. The historian without his facts is rootless and futile; the facts without their historian are dead and meaningless. My first answer therefore to the question, What is History?, is that it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.
- E. H. Carr, What is History? (1961)
- The historian, then, is an individual human being. Like other individuals, he is also a social phenomenon, both the product and the conscious or unconscious spokesman of the society to which he belongs; it is in this capacity that he approaches the facts of the historical past. We sometimes speak of the course of history as a ‘moving procession’. The metaphor is fair enough, provided it does not tempt the historian to think of himself as an eagle surveying the scene from a lonely crag or as a V.I.P. at the saluting base. Nothing of the kind! The historian is just another dim figure trudging along in another part of the procession. And as the procession winds along, swerving now to the right and now to the left, and sometimes doubling back on itself, the relative positions of different parts of the procession are constantly changing, so that it may make perfectly good sense to say, for example, that we are nearer today to the Middle Ages than were our great-grandfathers a century ago, or that the age of Caesar is nearer to us than the age of Dante. New vistas, new angles of vision, constantly appear as the procession – and the historian with it – moves along. The historian is part of history. The point in the procession at which he finds himself determines his angle of vision over the past.
- E. H. Carr, What is History? (1961)
- History therefore is a process of selection in terms of historical significance. To borrow Talcott Parsons’s phrase once more, history is ‘a selective system’ not only of cognitive, but of causal, orientations to reality. Just as from the infinite ocean of facts the historian selects those which are significant for his purpose, so from the multiplicity of sequences of cause and effect he extracts those, and only those, which are historically significant; and the standard of historical significance is his ability to fit them into his pattern of rational explanation and interpretation.
- E. H. Carr, What is History? (1961)
- History consists of a corpus ascertained facts. The facts are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fish in the fishmonger's slab. The historian collects them, takes them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him.
- E. H. Carr, What is History? (1961)
- The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings. To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the earth's vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment. Considering the whole span of earthly time, the opposite effect, in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species-man-acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.
- Rachel Carson Silent Spring (1962)
- The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or woman.
- "Woe to the vanquished" (Vae victis) in history as on the battle-field.
- Emanuele Celesia, The Conspiracy of Gianluigi Fieschi: or, Genoa in the Sixteenth Century. (1866), p.xxiv
- The one-sided class war of the last 40 years is becoming two-sided. The population is actually beginning to participate instead of just accepting the hammer blows.
- We should recognize that white male supremacy is a deep current in American history. It’s not gonna go away immediately. But there have been dents, significant ones. So for example, even in the mainstream, when the New York Times ran the 1619 Project, it couldn’t have happened a couple of years earlier. And it’s because of changes in general consciousness and awareness. Of course, there was an immediate backlash, strong backlash, and you’re gonna expect that, white male supremacy is a deep part of American history and culture.
- The Coronavirus is serious enough but it's worth recalling that there is a much greater horror approaching, we are racing to the edge of disaster, far worse than anything that's ever happened in human history.... Donald Trump & his minions are in the lead, in racing to the abyss. In fact there are two immense threats that we are facing. One is the growing threat of Nuclear war, which has exacerbated it by the tearing what's left of the arms control regime and the other of course is the growing threat of global warming. Both threats can be dealt with but there isn't a lot of time... the corona virus is a horrible... can have terrifying consequences but there will be recovery, while the others won't be recovered, it's finished. If we don't deal with them we're done.
- The current administration had ample warning about a likely pandemic. In fact, a high-level simulation was run as recently as last October. Trump has reacted during his years in office in the manner to which we have become accustomed: by defunding and dismantling every relevant part of government and assiduously implementing the instructions of his corporate masters to eliminate the regulations that impede profits while saving lives — and leading the race to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, by far his greatest crime — in fact, the greatest crime in history when we consider the consequences.
- Noam Chomsky, Chomsky: Ventilator Shortage Exposes the Cruelty of Neoliberal Capitalism, Interview with C.J. Polychroniou, Chomsky: Ventilator Shortage Exposes the Cruelty of Neoliberal Capitalism (April 1, 2020)
- If you look over the history of regulation — railroad regulation, financial regulation and so on — you find that, quite commonly, it's either initiated by the economic concentrations that are being regulated, or it's supported by them. And the reason is because they know that, sooner or later, they can take over the regulators and essentially run what they do. They can offer what amounts to bribes — offer them jobs or whatever it may be — it's an advantage to the regulators to accommodate themselves to the will of the powerful. It happens naturally in many ways, and ends up with what's called “regulatory capture.” The business being regulated is in fact running the regulators.
- Noam Chomsky, quoted by Bill Moyers in In His New Book, Noam Chomsky Takes a Look at Income Inequality, (11 May 2017)
- The threat of China is not military. The threat of China is they can't be intimidated... Europe you can intimidate. When the US tries to get people to stop investing in Iran, European companies pull out, China disregards it. You look at history and understand why — they've been around for 4,000 years, they have contempt for the barbarians, they just don't give a damn... of all the major powers, they've been the least aggressive militarily.
- Clinton, Kennedy, they all carried out mass murder, but they didn't think that that was what they were doing - nor does Bush. You know, they were defending justice and democracy from greater evils. And in fact I think you'd find it hard to discover a mass murderer in history who didn't think that.
- There's a good reason why nobody studies history. It just teaches you too much.
- There's one white powder which is by far the most lethal known. It's called sugar. If you look at the history of imperialism, a lot of it has to do with that. A lot of the imperial conquest, say in the Caribbean, set up a kind of a network... The Caribbean back in the 18th century was a soft drug producer: sugar, rum, tobacco, chocolate. And in order to do it, they had to enslave Africans, and it was done largely to pacify working people in England who were being driven into awful circumstances by the early industrial revolution. That's why so many wars took place around the Caribbean.
- Armies usually aren't interested in wars. They like preparation for war. But they have an understandable reluctance to fight a war. So I think if you look at, at least the history that I know, it's usually the civilian leadership who is pushing the military to do something. It was the case in the early days of the Vietnam War.
- Before there were any suicide bombers, it was also reported by the same sources that Saddam Hussein was giving $10,000 to the families of anyone who was killed by Israeli atrocities, and there were plenty of them. Well, should he've been doing that? So let's take the first month of the current intifada. I'm just relying now on IDF sources. What they say is, that in the first few days of the intifada, the Israeli army fired a million bullets. One of the high military officers said 'that means one bullet for every child'. Within the first month of the intifada, they killed about 70 people. Using U.S. helicopters, and in fact Clinton shipped new helicopters to Israel as soon as they started using them against civilians. That's just the first month. And it goes on, no suicide bombers. At the time, it was reported that Saddam Hussein was giving $10,000 to every family. Well, is that supporting terror? It seems to me, sending helicopters to Israel when they're using them to attack apartment complexes, that's supporting terror.
- Pointing to the massive amounts of propaganda spewed by government and institutions around the world, observers have called our era the age of Orwell. But the fact is that Orwell was a latecomer on the scene. As early as World War I, American historians offered themselves to President Woodrow Wilson to carry out a task they called "historical engineering," by which they meant designing the facts of history so that they would serve state policy. In this instance, the U.S. government wanted to silence opposition to the war. This represents a version of Orwell's 1984, even before Orwell was writing.
- Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor farmers, are killed in the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest bombing of civilian targets in history it appears, and arguably the most cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had little to do with its wars in the region. The worst period was from 1968, when Washington was compelled to undertake negotiations (under popular and business pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam. Kissinger-Nixon then decided to shift the planes to bombardment of Laos and Cambodia. The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse than land-mines: they are designed specifically to kill and maim, and have no effect on trucks, buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of millions of these criminal devices, which have a failure-to-explode rate of 20%-30% according to the manufacturer, Honeywell.
- Yet to enter approved memory is the "finale" described in the official Air Force history, a 1000-plane raid on civilian targets organized by General "Hap" Arnold to celebrate the war's end, five days after Nagasaki. According to survivors, leaflets were dropped among the bombs announcing the surrender.
- Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
- Winston Churchill, speech, House of Commons (May 2, 1935); in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 (1974), vol. 6, p. 5592. Quoted by Senator John Tower in an address delivered before the American Defense Preparedness Association (April 14, 1983); Congressional Record (April 20, 1983), vol. 129, p. S4989 (daily edition).
- Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
- Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.
- Cicero, M. Tulli Ciceronis Orator Ad M. Brutum (46 B.C.).
- Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.
- Isn't history ultimately the result of our fear of boredom?
- Emil Cioran, Histoire et utopie ("History and Utopia") (1960)
- I turn to the past to learn its story without any preconceived opinion what that story may be. I do not assume that one period or one line of study is more instructive than another, but I am ready to recognise the real identity of man's aspiration at all times. Some episodes in history are regarded as profoundly modern; others are dismissed contemptuously as concerned with trifles. In some ages there are great heroes, in others the actors are sunk in indolence and sloth. For my own part I do not recognise this great distinction.
- The value of history ... is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.
- R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1946)
- Every decade or so, the world is tested by a crisis so grave that it breaks the mould: one so horrific and inhumane that the response of politicians to it becomes emblematic of their generation —their moral leadership or cowardice, their resolution or incompetence. It is how history judges us.
- Those who cannot forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.
- CrimethInc., Days of War, Nights of Love (2001)
- When we say, “That’s history,” it’s a pejorative. Well, the rest of the world takes history pretty seriously.
- Ryan Crocker, "The FRONTLINE Interview: Ryan Crocker", Frontline, PBS, (February 20, 2018)
- Historians usually focus their attention on the past of countries that still exist, writing hundreds and thousands of books on British history, French history, German history, Russian history, American history, Chinese history, Indian history, Brazilian history or whatever. Whether consciously or not, they are seeking the roots of the present, thereby putting themselves in danger of reading history backwards. As soon as great powers arise, whether the United States in the twentieth century or China in the twenty-first, the call goes out for offerings on American History or Chinese History, and siren voices sing that today’s important countries are also those whose past is most deserving of examination, that a more comprehensive spectrum of historical knowledge can be safely ignored.
- Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (2011)
- Whoever writes on world history, but not as a forensic history, becomes thereby an accomplice.
- Karlheinz Deschner Bissige Aphorismen, S. 54
- It is easy to argue persuasively the truism that the lessons of history are best derived from what actually happened, rather than from what nearly happened. It should be added, however, that what happened becomes more fully comprehensible in the light of the contending forces that existed at moments of decision. Understanding of the total historical setting is bound to contribute to a clearer view of the actual course of affairs.
- Harold C. Deutsch, introduction to What If? Strategic Alternatives of WWII.
- Assassination has never changed the history of the world.
- Benjamin Disraeli, Addressing the House of Commons after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1 May 1865).
- We can only understand the present by continually referring to and studying the past; when any one of the intricate phenomena of our daily life puzzles us; when there arises religious problems, political problems, race problems, we must always remember that while their solution lies in the present, their cause and their explanation lie in the past.
- W. E. B. DuBois, “The Beginnings of Slavery,” Voice of the Negro, vol. 2 (1905), p. 104, as cited in James B. Stewart, “The Field and Function of Black Studies,” in The African American Studies Reader, edited by Nathaniel Norment, Jr. (Carolina Academic Press: 2007), p. 45.
- The difference of development, North and South, is explained as a sort of working out of cosmic social and economic law. ... In this sweeping mechanistic interpretation, there is no room for the real plot of the story, for the clear mistake and guilt of building a new slavery of the working class in the midst of a fateful experiment in democracy.
- W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935), pp. 714-715
- The historian always oversimplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend.
- Will Durant, The Age of Faith (1950)
- Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.
- Will Durant, as quoted in "The Gentle Philosopher" (2006) by John Little at Will Durant Foundation.
- LOVE one another ... my final lesson of history, ... is the same as that of Jesus. . . . just try it. Love is the most practical thing in the world.
- Will Durant, cited in Love—The “Surpassing Way”, The Watchtower magazine, 4/15, 1980.
Note: A 92-year-old historian summed up his long study of human events by giving that short piece of advice. When asked, at the age of 92, if he could summarize the lessons of history into a single sentence. As quoted in "Durants on History from the Ages, with Love," by Pam Proctor, Parade (6 August 1978) p. 12. Durant is quoting The Gospel of John from Gospel of John 13:34, here, and might also be quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti: "Love is the most practical thing in the world. To love, to be kind, not to be greedy, not to be ambitious, not to be influenced by people but to think for yourself — these are all very practical things, and they will bring about a practical, happy society."
- Will Durant, cited in Love—The “Surpassing Way”, The Watchtower magazine, 4/15, 1980.
- History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque.
- History repeats itself, but only in outline and in the large.
- No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.
- To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man’s follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.
- War is one of the constants of history ... and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.
- History is philosophy teaching by examples.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ars rhetorica (The Art of Rhetoric), XI:2
- The contact with manners then is education; and this Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ars Rhetorica, XI. 2, p. 212. (Tauchnitz Ed.) See Thucydides, Works, I. 22.
- Que voulez-vous de plus? Il a inventé l'histoire.
- What more would you have? He has invented history.
- Madame Du Deffand of Voltaire, who was accused by critics of lack of invention. See Fourier, L'Esprit dans Histoire, p. 141.
- History is an endless repetition of the wrong way of living.
- Lawrence Durrell, The Listener (1978)
- History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.
- Abba Eban, Speech in London (16 December 1970); as quoted in The Times [London] (17 December 1970) and in Great Jewish Quotations (1996) by Alfred J. Kolatch, p. 115.
- Psychology has a long past, but only a short history.
- We are inclined to overemphasize the material influences in history. The Russians especially make this mistake. Intellectual values and ethnic influences, tradition and emotional factors are equally important. If this were not the case, Europe would today be a federated state, not a madhouse of nationalism.
- History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must acquire proficiency in defense and display stamina in purpose. We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his First Inaugural address (20 January 1953)
- We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History”
- When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me, when a truth that fired the soul of St. John, fires mine, time is no more.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History”
- There is properly no history, only biography.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, History.
- Le bon historien n'est d'aucun temps ni d'aucun pays: quoiqu'il aime sa patrie, il ne la flatte jamais en rien.
- History, however, is not a linear narrative of progress. Rights may be won and taken away; gains are never complete or uncontested, and popular movements generate their own countervailing pressures.
- I don't know much about history, and I wouldn't give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today.
- Henry Ford, interview in Chicago Tribune (25 May 1916).
- The whole point about historians is that we are really communing with the dead. It's very restful – because you read. There's some sociopathic problem that makes me prefer it to human interaction.
- Economic history is not politically correct. Many on the left therefore struggle with its findings.
- A defining feature of history is that there are many more black swans — not to mention what Didier Sornette calls “dragon kings,” events so large in scale that they lie beyond even a power-law distribution — than a normally distributed world would lead us to expect. All such events lie in the realm of uncertainty, not of calculable risk. Moreover, the world we have built has, over time, become an increasingly complex system prone to all kinds of random behavior, nonlinear relationships and “fat-tailed” distributions. A disaster such as a pandemic is not a single, discrete event. It invariably leads to other forms of disaster — economic, social and political. There can be, and often are, cascades or chain reactions of disaster. The more networked the world becomes, the more we see this.
- Niall Ferguson, "The Next Global Disaster Is on Its Way, and We Aren’t Ready", Bloomberg (9 May 2021)
- I disbelieve in both cycles of history and ends of history. History is the interaction of many complex systems. There are certain long-run processes (notably exponential gains in productivity through the development of technology and the “suprasecular” decline of nominal and real interest rates as a result of capital accumulation) punctuated by, well, one disaster after another. These disasters are either randomly distributed or follow a power law (i.e. there are lots of little earthquakes, pandemics or wars, but a few cataclysmic ones). At unpredictable intervals, the global system is tipped into a major transition by a disturbance that can be quite small, if not quite as small as Edward Lorenz’s famous butterfly in the Amazon setting off a tornado in Texas. Russia’s war in Ukraine — destructive certainly, but still a relatively small conflict by 20th-century standards — can be enough to trigger a “conflict avalanche.”
- Niall Ferguson, "America, China, Russia and the Avalanche of History", Bloomberg (20 May 2022)
- "[T]his historian who seeks to mine the various quarries of the past in the belief that good history is a good foundation for a better present and future.”
- John Hope Franklin, Preface to Race and History: Selected Essays 1938-1988, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1989. As quoted by encyclopedia.com (2005): Franklin, John Hope 1915– by Thomson Gale.
- What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such … That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
- History does not belong to us, we belong to it.
- Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, p. 276.
- “It can’t make things any worse.”
“If there’s one thing that a study of history has taught us, it is that things can always get worse,” said my friend.
- There are moments in history when brooding tragedy and its dark shadows can be lightened by recalling great moments of the past.
- History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable.
- John W. Gardner, No Easy Victories (1968)
- The reign of Antoninus is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history, which is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ch. III (1776), Vol. 1, Ch. 3 "Of the Constitution of the Roman Empire, in the Age of the Antonines"
- This has often been paraphrased: History is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
- History is not the past but a map of the past, drawn from a particular point of view, to be useful to the modern traveller.
- Henry Glassie, Passing the Time in Ballymenone (1982)
- History teaches, but it has no pupils.
- History is at once freedom and necessity.
- Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
- Revolutionaries see history as a creation of their own spirit.
- Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
- The great Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the first step a tyrant takes toward enslaving a people is to steal their history, for in that case, no one has anything from the past with which to compare the present, and any horror can be normalized. ... It was once said, as a commercial joke, that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. The same is true in this case, but not as a joke: It’s not nice to fool with history.
- History, if it should serve its purpose of stirring emotion, instigating inquiry and directing thought, must first of all be exciting. Is it impossible to be both truthful and warm-hearted, both factual and moving? Are imagination and conscience necessarily enemies to each other? In reconciling them is the art of the true historian. The flow of the story must be swift, vivid, vibrant.
- D.V. Gundappa, ‘The Classical Age’, All India Radio, Mysore, 26 July 1954. Reprinted in Triveni Journal, October 1954. quoted from Balakrishna, S. Invaders and infidels: From Sindh to Delhi : the 500- year journey of Islamic invasions. New Delhi : Bloomsbury, 2021.
- There is no end of history. Instead, civilization is a constant fight to embrace what has worked for the common good through the ages—and to reject what in the past has failed abysmally.
- What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.
- A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.
- The expansion of Europe was the transforming force in human history of the last 500 years, and yet the modern academy looks for reasons not to study it. In the era of decolonisation the new nations want to stress their indigenous roots and sympathetic scholars explain that European influence was not overwhelming, but that it was used and subverted by locals for local purposes. To concentrate on Europe is criticised as 'Eurocentric'. But to ignore Europe makes the history of any part of the globe unintelligible.
- John Hirst, Sense and Nonsense in Australian History (2005)
- It is not the neutrals or the lukewarm who make history.
- Adolf Hitler, Speech in Berlin (23 April 1933)
- In this valley of trees and river and crystal,
the fault lines of history broke.
- Linda Hogan (writer) Dark. Sweet.: New & Selected Poems (2014)
- In the end, young people are at risk of being disinherited from their community if that community lacks the courage and confidence to teach its history.
- John Howard Australia Day Address, (25 January 2006)
- That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.
- Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays (1958)
- What we know of the past is mostly not worth knowing. What is worth knowing is mostly uncertain. Events in the past may roughly be divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter.
- Dean Inge, Assessments and Anticipations, "Prognostications" (1929)
- Today's banalities apparently gain in profundity if one states that the wisdom of the past, for all its virtues, belongs to the past. The arrogance of those who come later preens itself with the notion that the past is dead and gone. … The modern mind can no longer think thought, only can locate it in time and space. The activity of thinking decays to the passivity of classifying.
- Russell Jacoby, Social Amnesia (1975), p. 1.
- It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
- Henry James, Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ch. I: The Early Years (1879).
- I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past, — so good night!
- history is shaped by people operating as people do, making choices with their consciousness limited by material reality and by their perceptions of material reality. This means by their perceptions of possibility too. Simply put, if people don't think change is possible, they won't try.
- Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz “Nine Suggestions For Radicals, or Lessons From the Gulf War” in The Issue is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence and Resistance (1992)
- To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident. I observe regretfully that in politics, however, it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. It hardly seems necessary to point out in California - of all States -- that change, although it involves risks, is the law of life.
- It goes against the grain for me to do what so often happens, to speak inhumanly about the great as if a few millennia were an immense distance. I prefer to speak humanly about it, as if it happened yesterday, and let only the greatness itself be the distance.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (1843), S. Walsh, trans. (2006), p. 28.
- I think of myself as a historian more than as a statesman. As a historian, you have to be conscious of the fact that every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed, of aspirations that weren't realized, of wishes that were fulfilled and then turned out to be different from what one expected. So, as a historian, one has to live with a sense of the inevitability of tragedy. As a statesman, one has to act on the assumption that problems must be solved.
- Henry Kissinger, as quoted in an interview with the New York Times (13 October 1974)
- The study of history offers no manual of instructions that can be applied automatically; history teaches by analogy, shedding light on the likely consequences of comparable situations.
- Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (1994)
- Purpose has no place in biology, but history has no meaning without it.
- "...Jesus told us this a long time ago, and I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command."
- The history books, which had almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, only served to intensify the Negroes' sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy. All too many Negroes and whites are unaware of the fact that the first American to shed blood in the revolution which freed this country from British oppression was a black seaman named Crispus Attucks. Negroes and whites are almost totally oblivious of the fact that it was a Negro physician, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful operation on the heart in America. Another Negro physician, Dr. Charles Drew, was largely responsible for developing the method of separating blood plasma and storing it on a large scale, a process that saved thousands of lives in World War II and has made possible many of the important advances in postwar medicine. History books have virtually overlooked the many Negro scientists and inventors who have enriched American life. Although a few refer to George Washington Carver, whose research in agricultural products helped to revive the economy of the South when the throne of King Cotton began to totter, they ignore the contribution of Norbert Rillieuz, whose invention of an evaporating pan revolutionized the process of sugar refining. How many people know that multimillion-dollar United Shoe Machinery Company developed from the shoe-lasting machine invented in the last century by a Negro from Dutch Guiana, Jan Matzelinger; or that Granville T. Woods, an expert in electric motors, whose many patents speeded the growth and improvement of the railroads at the beginning of this century, was a Negro?
Even the Negroes' contribution to the music of America is sometimes overlooked in astonishing ways. In 1965 my oldest son and daughter entered an integrated school in Atlanta. A few months later my wife and I were invited to attend a program entitled "Music that has made America great." As the evening unfolded, we listened to the folk songs and melodies of the various immigrant groups. We were certain that the program would end with the most original of all American music, the Negro spiritual. But we were mistaken. Instead, all the students, including our children, ended the program by singing "Dixie".
- Martin Luther King Jr., as quoted in Carson, Clayborne. 2001. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Grand Central Publishing. Cap: Black Power.
- Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter if they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, "he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night." But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over, it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.
- Historians as a rule follow the main lines of history—the wars, the politics, the rise and fall of empires—yet the true history is that of the people themselves: where they lived, their ways of making a living, their inventions, discoveries, problem-solving, business dealings, and their relations with each other.
- Louis L'Amour, The Sackett Companion: The Facts Behind the Fiction. Random House Publishing. 19 February 2009. ISBN 9780307490384.
- We hope, plan, execute; will it be vain?
Or will the future be the past again?
- Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Romance and Reality (1831), Vol I., Chapter 15.
- History hath but few pages—soon is told
Man’s ordinary life,
Labour, and care, and strife,
Make up the constant chronicle of old.
- Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1835 (1834), 'Hindoo and Mahommedan Buildings'.
- History is nothing whatever but a record of what living persons have done in the past.
- Rose Wilder Lane, Give Me Liberty (1936).
- There was a little bit of improvement in my son’s education, but Latin American and black contributions—and I don’t mean to lump us together—were nonexistent in my public school. Even when I went to college, there was nothing. When I was studying the Civil War, there was nothing about everything we did, not one mention of any participation or contribution, ever. And it would’ve changed my life.
- John Leguizamo, "John Leguizamo Is Here to Explain Latino History for You", Patricia Garcia, Vogue, (April 6, 2017)
- I started to think why people feel comfortable disrespecting us in a way that’s just not normal or natural. And I started to think that it's because our contributions aren't in history textbooks.
- John Leguizamo in "#NBCLatino20: Broadway's Professor, John Leguizamo", by Raul A. Reyes, Marshall Crook and Geraldine Cols Azócar, NBC News, (Sept. 14, 2017).
- What is the use trying to describe the flowing of a river at any one moment, and then at the next moment, and then at the next, and the next, and the next? You wear out. You say: There is a great river, and it flows through this land, and we have named it History.
- Ursula K. Le Guin, "A Man of the People", in Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995), p. 108.
- History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence.
- Jill Lepore, "Story of America: essays on origins", (2014), p. 15.
- Time travel dramas are becoming a hot theme for television and films. But the content and exaggerated performance style are questionable.
Many stories are totally made up and are made to strain for an effect of novelty. Producers and writers are treating serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore.
- Li Jingsheng, SARFT conference, (April 1, 2011); as qtd. in "China censors want to consign time travel dramas to past", by Tania Branigan, The Guardian, (4/14/2011).
- What has once happened, will invariably happen again, when the same circumstances which combined to produce it, shall again combine in the same way.
- Abraham Lincoln, speech on the sub-Treasury, in the hall of the House of Representatives, Springfield, Illinois (December 26, 1839); in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 1, p. 165.
- Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we can tell the truth about the present.
- Ken Loach, at Cannes Festival Awards 2006
- Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
- History casts its shadow far into the land of song.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Outre-Mer, Ancient Spanish Ballads.
- I shall cheerfully bear the reproach of having descended below the dignity of history.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, History of England, Volume I, Chapter I.
- After all, history is no respecter of the feelings of persons and communities, and one cannot alter the facts of history.
- R.C. Majumdar History Of The Freedom Movement In India, vol I. (xviii)
- Firstly, that history is no respecter of persons or communities; secondly, that its sole aim is to find out the truth by following the canons commonly accepted as sound by all historians; and thirdly, to express the truth, without fear, envy, malice, passion, or prejudice, and irrespective of all extraneous considerations, both political and humane. In judging any remark or opinion expressed in such a history, the question to be asked is not whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, mild or strong, impolitic or imprudent, but simply whether it is true or false, just or unjust, and above all, whether it is or is not supported by the evidence at our disposal. (xxx)
- R. C. Majumdar, Volume 6: The Delhi Sultanate [1300-1526]
- What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history ? A fable agreed upon.
- History is experimental politics.
- Joseph de Maistre, Against Rousseau (1795), p. 21
- Let us all remember: history makes us and we the people make history
- Elizabeth Martinez Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers and Freedom School Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer (2007 edition)
- The problem of locating photos often confirms the indifference to women’s presence in history, as reflected in the media, books, historical records, museums, university libraries.
- Elizabeth Martinez 500 Years of Chicana Women's History/500 Años de la Mujer Chicana (2008)
- Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
- To seek to abolish history is the ambition of a fool. For a land without history is a barren island in an uncharted sea. To tear up the roots is to destroy the tree.
- Robert Menzies, Melbourne Scots - 'Father and Son' Night address (1968), as cited in Menzies In His Own Words: A Collection of Quotes (2020)
- History admits no rules, only outcomes. What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts. What precipitates acts? Belief.
- To be a history in the true sense of the word, the work must be the story of the people inhabiting a country. It must be a record of their life from age to age presented through the life and achievements of men whose exploits become the beacon-lights of tradition; through the characteristic reaction of the people to physical and economic conditions; through political changes and vicissitudes which create the forces and conditions which operate upon life; through characteristic social institutions, beliefs and forms; through literary and artistic achievements; through the movements of thought which from time to time helped or hindered the growth of collective harmony; through those values which the people have accepted or reacted to and which created or shaped their collective will; through efforts of the people to will themselves into an organic unity. The central purpose of a history must, therefore, be to investigate and unfold the values which, age after age, have inspired the inhabitants of a country to develop their collective will and to express it through the manifold activities of their life.
- K. M. Munshi, in History and Culture of the Indian People Volume 7: The Mughul Empire [1526-1707]
- If Napoleon had nuclear subs, we'd all be speaking French. So, the history thing can be oversold.
- [O]ne's political ideology is inextricable from one's view of history.
- Brian Reynolds Myers, "'Heaven is Helping Us': More from the Nationalist Left" (27 August 2018), Sthele Press
- The great historian John Hope Franklin, who helped to get this museum started, once said, “Good history is a good foundation for a better present and future.” He understood the best history doesn’t just sit behind a glass case; it helps us to understand what’s outside the case. The best history helps us recognize the mistakes that we’ve made and the dark corners of the human spirit that we need to guard against. And, yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable, and shake us out of familiar narratives. But it is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn and grow and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect.
- Kids can understand that things can be racist and also other things. The Constitution can be revolutionary, and also racist. Movies can be romantic and also racist. Children's books can be charming, and also racist. Broadcasters can be incredibly successful and also racist. And if kids are taught an incomplete history, they'll either never get the full story, or when they do, they don't have the framework to understand how the pieces fit together.
- History, when taught well, shows us how to improve the world. But history when taught poorly falsely claims there is nothing to improve…
- John Oliver, “U.S. History”, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, (Aug 3, 2020)
- "If we don’t care about our past we can’t have very much hope for our future."
- Man is no thing, but a drama... Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is... history.
- José Ortega y Gasset, History as a System (1935)
- Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
- Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible... If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'...
- The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?... To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself... That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
- if you don’t think history, you’re not thinking. You’re just not thinking if you cannot see a generation back. And if you do not think about the circumstances in their lives, then you don’t know what you’re thinking about. There’s no truth in the present moment. Now simply doesn’t exist without then at all.
- It is impossible to write ancient history because we do not have enough sources, and impossible to write modern history because we have far too many.
- Charles Péguy, Clio (1931)
- Just as geographers, O Sossius Senecio, crowd on to the outer edges of their maps the parts of the earth which elude their knowledge, with explanatory notes that "What lies beyond is sandy desert without water and full of wild beasts," or "blind marsh," or "Scythian cold," or "frozen sea," so in the writing of my Parallel Lives, now that I have traversed those periods of time which are accessible to probable reasoning and which afford basis for a history dealing with facts, I might well say of the earlier periods: "What lies beyond is full of marvels and unreality, a land of poets and fabulists, of doubt and obscurity.
- Plutarch, The Life of Theseus.
- The past is just one long, smelly error until we get to the car, computer and iPod.
- Laura Penny, More Money Than Brains, p. 23.
- This moment
I am keener on the stories of valour
washed away by this year's monsoon floods
than the abstract shapes
glued to myths, history and stories.
- Suman Pokhrel, Before Buddha’s Statue in the Rain
- Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web.
- Had previous chroniclers neglected to speak in praise of History in general, it might perhaps have been necessary for me to recommend everyone to choose for study and welcome such treatises as the present, since men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past. But all historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others. Evidently therefore no one, and least of all myself, would think it his duty at this day to repeat what has been so well and so often said. For the very element of unexpectedness in the events I have chosen as my theme will be sufficient to challenge and incite everyone, young and old alike, to peruse my systematic history. For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government — a thing unique in history? Or who again is there so passionately devoted to other spectacles or studies as to regard anything as of greater moment than the acquisition of this knowledge?
- There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent conception of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzlement or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as heroes.
- Variant: There is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world.
- Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol 2, Ch. 25 "Has History any Meaning?" (1945)
- History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.
- History, the proverb says, is made at night. The European civil servant normally sleeps at night. What waits in his IN basket to confront him at nine in the morning is history.
- Whenever you start digging into history, history is re-written all over again. The more you dig, the more you gain, and the more you lose faith from history.
- [History] hath triumphed over Time, which besides it, nothing but Eternity hath triumphed over.
- Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World, Preface.
- In a word, we may gather out of history a policy no less wise than eternal; by the comparison and application of other men's forepassed miseries with our own like errors and ill deservings.
- Sir Walter Raleigh, History of the World, Preface, Par, IX.
- Classical history is concerned with political life, as lived in the Greek city states and the Roman republic and empire.
- Isabel Rivers (2 September 2003). Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-134-84417-3.
- History is the story of mankind, of what it has done, suffered or enjoyed.
- J. M. Roberts, The Penguin History of the World (1976)
- History till now has been like women's periods, a little egg of possibility, hidden in the ordinary material of life, with tiny barbarian hordes maybe charging in, trying to find it, failing, fighting each other—finally a bloody mess ends that chance, and everything has to start all over.
- The history of all peoples is full of bloody and revolting pages. So much blood has been spilled for every new construction, every new teaching or religion! That is why humanity urgently must learn the two great concepts — Tolerance and Cooperation. On these two foundations the New Epoch will be built.
- Helena Roerich, Letters I, 6 June 1935
- The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.
- I know that all things pass away but history. History never dies. It is what defines us as a civilization, and we live out our collective histories every day, in ways both good and evil... History dies hard.
- Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man (2006), Chapters 10–11
- Elementary education, in all advanced countries, is in the hands of the State. Some of the things taught are known to be false by the officials who prescribe them, and many others are known to be false, or at any rate very doubtful, by every unprejudiced person. Take, for example, the teaching of history. Each nation aims only at self-glorification in the school text-books of history. When a man writes his autobiography he is expected to show a certain modesty; but when a nation writes its autobiography there is no limit to its boasting and vainglory. When I was young, school books taught that the French were wicked and the Germans virtuous; now they teach the opposite. In neither case is there the slightest regard for truth. German school books, dealing with the battle of Waterloo, represent Wellington as all but defeated when Blücher saved the situation; English books represent Blücher as having made very little difference. The writers of both the German and the English books know that they are not telling the truth. American school books used to be violently anti-British; since the War they have become equally pro-British, without aiming at truth in either case (see The Freeman, Feb. 15, 1922, p. 532). Both before and since, one of the chief purposes of education in the United States has been to turn the motley collection of immigrant children into “good Americans.” Apparently it has not occurred to any one that a “good American,” like a “good German” or a “good Japanese,” must be, pro tanto, a bad human being. A “good American” is a man or woman imbued with the belief that America is the finest country on earth, and ought always to be enthusiastically supported in any quarrel. It is just possible that these propositions are true; if so, a rational man will have no quarrel with them. But if they are true, they ought to be taught everywhere, not only in America. It is a suspicious circumstance that such propositions are never believed outside the particular country which they glorify. Meanwhile the whole machinery of the State, in all the different countries, is turned on to making defenceless children believe absurd propositions the effect of which is to make them willing to die in defence of sinister interests under the impression that they are fighting for truth and right. This is only one of countless ways in which education is designed, not to give true knowledge, but to make the people pliable to the will of their masters. Without an elaborate system of deceit in the elementary schools it would be impossible to preserve the camouflage of democracy.
- Bertrand Russell, Free Thought and Official Propaganda (1922)
- It is true that numerous instances are not always necessary to establish a law, provided the essential and relevant circumstances can easily be disentangled. But, in history, so many circumstances of a small and accidental nature are relevant, that no broad and simple uniformities are possible. Where our main endeavour is to discover general laws, we regard these as intrinsically more valuable than any of the facts which they inter-connect. In astronomy, the law of gravitation is plainly better worth knowing than the position of a particular planet on a particular night, or even on every night throughout a year. There are in the law a splendour and simplicity and sense of mastery which illuminate a mass of otherwise uninteresting details. ... But in history the matter is far otherwise... Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.
- Bertrand Russell, On History (1904).
- The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death's hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. ... On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.
- Bertrand Russell, On History (1904).
- A land without ruins is a land without memories—a land without memories is a land without history.
- Abram Joseph Ryan, "A Land Without Ruins", Preface quoting an unnamed source. Edd Winfield Parks, Southern Poets (1936), p. 165.
- Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
- George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1: Reason in Common Sense (1905).
- National history, like every other history worthy of the name and deserving to endure, must be true as regards the facts and reasonable in the interpretation of them. It will be national not in the sense that it will try to suppress or white-wash everything in our country’s past that is disgraceful, but because it will admit them and at the same time point out that there were other and nobler aspects in the stages of our nation’s evolution which offset the former.. . . In this task the historian must be a judge He will not suppress any defect of the national character, but add to his portraiture those higher qualities which, taken together with the former, help to constitute the entire individual.
- Jadunath Sarkar, ,19 November, 1937, Quoted in R.C. Majumdar, The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 7, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1984,
- an onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed
- Naomi Shihab Nye Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems (2020)
- Many people believe that the crimes of the Nazi regime were so great as to stand outside history. This is a troubling echo of Hitler’s own belief that will triumphs over facts. Others maintain that the crimes of Stalin, though horrible, were justified by the need to create or defend a modern state. This recalls Stalin’s view that history has only one course, which he understood, and which legitimates his policies in retrospect. Without a history built and defended upon an entirely different foundation, we will find that Hitler and Stalin continue to define their own works for us.
- Timothy D. Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010)
- Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.
- The world's history is the world's judgment.
- Friedrich Schiller, Resignation, 17.
- Es giebt keine Selbstkenntniss als die historische. Niemand weiss was er ist, wer nicht weiss was seine Genossen sind.
- There is no self-knowledge except historical self-knowledge. No one knows what he is if he doesn’t know what his contemporaries are.
- Friedrich Schlegel, “Ideas,” Lucinde and the Fragments, p. Firchow, trans. (1991), § 139.
- There is no self-knowledge except historical self-knowledge. No one knows what he is if he doesn’t know what his contemporaries are.
- History shows that there are no invincible armies and that there never have been.
- Joseph Stalin, Radio Address "Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy!" (3 July 1941).
- Serious affairs and history are carefully laid snares for the uninformed.
- Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, Game III, Sequence: “A Game” (1999).
- Creators of history always play with our impotence and our ignorance.
- Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, Game III, Sequence: “A Game” (1999).
- He did not waste time in a vain search for a place in history.
- Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, “Socrates,” Sequence: “A Stone and a Word” (1999).
- History will be erased in the universal purgatory.
- Dejan Stojanovic in “Don Quixote”
- Narrative is taken to mean the organization of material in a chronologically sequential order and the focussing of the content into a single coherent story, albeit with sub-plots. The two essential ways in which narrative history differs from structural history is that its arrangement is descriptive rather than analytical and that its central focus is on man not circumstances. It therefore deals with the peculiar and the specific, rather than the collective and statistical. Narrative is a mode of historical writing, but it is a mode which also affects and is affected by content and method.
- Lawrence Stone, ‘The Revival of Narrative: Reflections on a new old history’ in The Past and Present Revisited,London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987 p. 74.
- History teaches us that a given view has been abandoned in favor of another by all men, or by all competent men, or perhaps by only the most vocal men; it does not teach us whether the change was sound or whether the rejected view deserved to be rejected. Only an impartial analysis of the view in question, an analysis that is not dazzled by the victory or stunned by the defeat of the adherents of the view concerned—could teach us anything regarding the worth of the view and hence regarding the meaning of the historical change.
- Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1953), p. 19
- Our understanding of the thought of the past is liable to be the more adequate, the less the historian is convinced of the superiority of his own point of view, or the more he is prepared to admit the possibility that he may have to learn something, not merely about the thinkers of the past, but from them.
- Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy? (1959), p. 68
- “Our ideas” are only partly our ideas. Most of our ideas are abbreviations or residues of the thought of other people, of our teachers (in the broadest sense of the term) and of our teachers’ teachers; they are abbreviations and residues of the thought of the past. These thoughts were once explicit and in the center of consideration and discussion. It may even be presumed that they were once perfectly lucid. By being transmitted to later generations they have possibly been transformed, and there is no certainty that the transformation was effected consciously and with full clarity. … This means that the clarification of our political ideas insensibly changes into and becomes indistinguishable from the history of political ideas.
- Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy? (1959), p. 73
- History is a big word..........History is not the sort of animal you can domesticate.
- Antonio Tabucchi, Pereira Maintains (2010), p. 89.
- Præcipium munus annalium reor, ne virtutes sileantur, utque pravis dictis, factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit.
- The principal office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity.
- Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), III. 65.
- For me, history is of use... by being able to steal the ideas of others and leverage them, correct the mental defect that seems to block my ability to learn from others.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Three: A Mathematical Meditation on History — Fun in My Attic — Denigration of History
- History is written by the victors, but it's victims who write the memoirs.
- Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) : Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (2008), p. 197.
- History gets thicker as it approaches recent times: more people, more events, and more books written about them. More evidence is preserved, often, one is tempted to say, too much. Decay and destruction have hardly begun their beneficent work.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914 – 1945 ( 1975), "Revised Bibliography", p. 729
- I do not look to history to absolve my country of the need to do things right today. Rather I seek to understand the wrongs of yesterday, both to grasp what has brought us to our present reality and to understand the past for itself. The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but it does partly help explain the present. One cannot, as I have written elsewhere, take revenge upon history; history is its own revenge.
- History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
- Compared with the life-span of a human being the time-span of a civilization is so vast that a human observer cannot hope to take the measure of its curve unless he is in a position to view it in a distant perspective; and he can only obtain this perspective vis-a-vis some society that is extinct. He can never stand back sufficiently far from the history of the society in which he himself lives and moves and has his being. In other words, to assert of any living society, at any moment in its life, that it is the consummation of human history is to hazard a guess which is intrinsically unsusceptible of immediate verification. When we find that a majority of the members of all societies at all times make this assertion about their own civilizations, it becomes evident that their guesses have really nothing to do with any objective calculation of probabilities but are pure expressions of the egocentric illusion.
- Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (1934–1961)
- Those who insist that history is simply the effort to tell the thing exactly as it was, to state the facts, are confronted with the difficulty that the fact which they would represent is not planted on the solid ground of fixed conditions; it is in the midst and is itself a part of the changing currents, the complex and interacting influences of the time, deriving its significance as a fact from its relations to the deeper-seated movements of the age, movements so gradual that often only the passing years can reveal the truth about the fact and its right to a place on the historian’s page.
- Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1893)
- The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
- Mark Twain, Following the Equator, Part 7.
- To ingenious attempts at explaining by the light of reason things which want the light of history to show their meaning, much of the learned nonsense of the world has indeed been due.
- Edward Burnett Tylor, Primitive Culture (1871)
- The absence from the Dead Sea Scrolls of historical texts proper should not surprise us. Neither in the inter-Testamental period, nor in earlier biblical times, was the recording of history as we understand it a strong point among the Jews.
- Geza Vermes The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in EnglishChapter 3: The History of the Community, p. 49
- Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it's gossip with some point to it. That's why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
- Gore Vidal, interview in: Butt, Nr. 20, Special Summer 2007, p. 63.
- All our ancient history, as one of our wits remarked, is no more than accepted fiction.
- Voltaire, Jeannot et Colin (1764)
- Oh do not read history, for that I know must be false.
- Robert Walpole, I, Walpoliana, No. CXLI. Also in Advertisement to Letters to Horace Mann.
- We are apt to suppose that the facts in any branch of meaning must be in some way open to direct inspection, and that the statements of experts in each branch can be tested by their conformity with them ...
The most striking thing about history is that the facts it purports to describe are past facts; and past facts are no longer accessible to direct inspection. We cannot, in a word, test the accuracy of historical statements by simply seeing whether they correspond to a reality which is independently known. How then can we test them? …
... we do so by referring to historical evidence. Although the past is not accessible to direct inspection it has left ample traces of itself in the present, in the shape of documents, buildings, coins, institutions, procedures and so forth.
- W. H. Walsh, An Introduction to the Philosophy of History (1958) pp. 19–20.
- Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
- H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (1921), vol. 2, chapter 41, p. 594.
- The history of the world has been one not of conquest, as supposed; it has been one of ennui.
- Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
- Oscar Wilde "The True Function and Value of Criticism." The Nineteenth Century XXVII (July-December 1890): 137.
- History has a way of reducing individuals to flat, two-dimensional portraits. it is the enemy of subjectivity, which is why Stephen Dedalus called it "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". If we think of Kierkegaard, of Nietzsche, of Hölderlin, we see them standing alone, outside of history. They are spotlighted by their intensity, and the background is all darkness. They intersect history, but are not a part of it. There is something anti-history about such men; they are not subject to time, accident and death, but their intensity is a protest against it. I have elsewhere called such men "Outsiders" because they attempt to stand outside history. which defines humanity on terms of limitation, not of possibility.
- Colin Wilson in Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs, p. 13-14 (1964)
- Memory plays tricks that history corrects.
- History does not warehouse well in neatly labeled boxes, for events do not exist in quarantined isolation. They exist on a broad spectrum, and all influence and shape each other. Historical episodes are rarely built on the ground of a single foundation. Most are the product of a tangled web of influences and cascading cause-and-effect relationships within a broader historical narrative.
- Timothy C. Winegard, The Mosquito (2019), pp. 15-16
- Those old credulities, to nature dear,
Shall they no longer bloom upon the stock
- William Wordsworth, Memorials of a Tour in Italy, IV. At Rome.
- It is always a part of the misfortunes of the vanquished that their portraits are painted and their history written by the victors.
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations Edit
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 368-69.
- Happy is the nation without a history.
- Cesare Beccaria, Trattato dei Delitti e delle Pene (Treatise of Crimes and of Punishment). Introduction.
- History is a pageant, not a philosophy.
- Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta, The Muse of History.
- Happy the people whose annals are tiresome.
- Montesquieu (attributed).
See also Edit
- “Who Said It First? Journalism is the 'first rough draft of history.’” by Jack Shafer, Slate (30 August 2010)
- Personal History (1997) by Katharine Graham