Quotes on history

History reveals to us our humanity, religion helps us transcend it. – Stephen Blendell

In its Greek origins, historia meant inquiry, and from Thucydides onwards, the past has been studied to understand its connections with the present. – Simon Schama

“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.” – Ulrich Phillips, “The Slave Economy of the Old South”

To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.         – Cicero

Animals are molded by natural forces they do not comprehend. To their minds there is no past and no future. There is only the everlasting present of a single generation, its trails in the forest, its hidden pathways in the the air and in the sea. There is nothing in the Universe more alone than Man. He has entered into the strange world of history. – Loren Eiseley

The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living. – GK Chesterton

The older I get the more I’m convinced that it’s the purpose of politicians and journalists to say the world is very simple, whereas it’s the purpose of historians to say, ‘No! It’s very complicated.’ The job of the historian is to help give people a sense of existence in time, without which we are really not fully human. – David Cannadine

“Historians of every generation, I believe, unless they are pure antiquarians, see history against the background — the controlling background — of current events. They call upon it to explain the problems of their own time, to give to those problems a philosophical context, a continuum in which they may be reduced to proportion and perhaps made intelligible.”  – Hugh Trevor Roper, valedictory address to Oxford University (1980)

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood, and to bring truth to light. – Oedipus Rex

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. – George Bernard Shaw

History is tangled, messy, contradictory. But is where we are. – Eamon Duffy, “Faith of our Fathers”

If history offers no obvious solutions, however, it does at least provide the comfort of knowing that failure is nothing new. – Eamon Duffy, from “Scandals in the Church”

History is a lie agreed upon. – Napoleon Bonaparte

People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors. – Edmund Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790)

History is either a moral argument with lessons for the here-and-now, or it is merely an accumulation of pointless facts. – Andrew Marr

“The great tragedies of history occur not when right confronts wrong but when two rights confront each other.” – Henry Kissinger

The past is dead, and nothing that we can choose to believe about it can harm or benefit those who were alive in it. On the other hand, it has the power to harm us. – ATQ Stewart, “The Shape of Irish History”

More and more, we are projecting our own values on to those who lived in the past as though there can be no other way to live, or to think, than the way we live and think now… All ages have their prejudices. We’re no different. We are different in one respect, though. Ours is the only one ever to think that it has nothing at all to learn from the past. One result of this is that it has become all but impossible for us to make a drama set in the past in which a credible character doesn’t think exactly like us. The writer CS Lewis called this kind of attitude ‘chronological snobbery’, meaning the belief that the latest thing is always the best. We’re all chronological snobs now. – David Quinn, “The Irish Independent”

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. – L. P. Hartley


Any study of mankind is incomplete which ignores the predominant influence exerted on all human development, be it physical, political or social, by man’s geographic environment, and it is therefore necessary to know something of the land in which he lived. – Joseph Raftery, “Prehistoric Ireland”

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