Before studying history, we should have a clear conception of what history wants to say. Formerly, history used to relate only the records of the kings and the military rulers. But now by ‘history’, we mean the history of the common masses. History is not merely a catalogue of events, names and dates. It is rather a record of success and failure of mankind in different fields of life. It is rightly said that a nation that has no past, has no future. We read history because of the fact that we cannot understand the present without reference to the past. If we read history merely as an account of events or a catalogue of facts and dates, we only skip over the outer surface of history. The proper study of history consists in going deep into its inner significance.
In fact, the ranges of history are spread from the land of our birth to the world outside and from the ancient period to the modern times. We should learn our national history and the history of other nations to know the causes of success and failure of a nation at a particular time. We should read our ancient and medieval history in relation to our present society. The history of the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and that of the struggle of independence of India help us to understand the forces that bring about social and political changes. The study of the biographies of great men such as Raja Rammohun, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. should also be a part of the study of history. We can see that history is sometimes stranger than fiction. The episode of the rise and fall of Napoleon, the heroic expedition of Alexander the Great, the episode of Netaji’s escape and his heroic fight for his motherland are more thrilling than any adventurous tale. There are social history, anthropological history, literary history, a cultural history of a nation. The study of folklore is also an important branch of history. A regional history of a country is also gaining importance nowadays.
However, the significance of history does not consist in simply knowing what took place in the past, but in realizing how the past events took place and what lesson they have for the present. We should learn from history how to avoid the evils that brought about misfortune in the past. We should also learn from it the way that leads to progress and prosperity. This is the real purpose of the reading of history.