When my high school history teacher Jeff Ustick first posed the question of what the purpose of history was, to me, I had little idea then that later in life I too would become a historian like him. At the time, there were several quotes he shared with us including the cliché, “those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” in an effort to spark a classroom discussion.
I forget the ensuing conversation, but in the time since, in which I majored in history at UC Berkeley and went on to become a history teacher, I believe I found my own reason for why history should be studied, and it is a nuanced perspective on the cliché I re-quoted above. I believe that history is filled with familiar patterns of human behavior. Once we recognize the catalysts to these behaviors we can begin to predict how humans might behave. This knowledge is therefore vital, if put to use to prevent wars and conflict—however and predictably so, human greed not knowledge tends to drive the actions of these political actors upon humanity’s drama.
Take for example the role we, i.e. the West have played in the Middle East for the past one hundred years. Not unlike our ongoing relationship with the African continent, or throughout Asia, the Caribbean and also Latin America, we have engaged in the process of raw resource extraction for our profit. We have treated the Middle East as a place to deplete.