How can history help us to live in the present?

When I was reading through the six different questions that presented themselves to me on my sheet, I found that I was able to think of answers relatively quickly. Then I came to the very last question; how can history help us to live in the present? In response, I thought of the quote, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” by Edmund Burke, and then the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” from George Santayana. After those two quotes zipped through my mind, I thought, “Yup! That’s true, I totally agree!” and that was that. Yet, in the next split second, I was hit by one word; why? Why did I agree with the two quotes? I then realized I couldn’t entirely justify my answer to the question; I had hit a dead end.

How does history help us live in the present? What is it about the lives of people in the past that help the lives of the people in present? After pondering this question for a while, I realized that a lot of the things in the past have shaped the way we live today. Either by the physical and technological advances or by the development of morals, ethics and rights throughout the years, the world in the past has built our legacy today.

The discovery of mathematics, chemistry, art and so many other things are things that have been built on throughout the time humans have been in existence. Even in science or math textbooks, you can often see how many of the theories and techniques we use today have been developed by the people in the past. A huge quantity of our lives is spent building on top of the framework that our ancestors have set down for us.

On top of that, most of our morals also stem from the actions of the people in the past. Fairy tales or folktales are used to teach children basic life lessons, and these stories are often written by people who have lived in times much before us. Women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and many other laws and movements have been started by people in the past, such as Susan B. Anthony. As we uncover more about the past, we can learn what is right, what has worked and what not to repeat in the present. In the future, the following generations will look back to our cultural norms and will continue to build upon this framework that has been developing ever since the start of humankind. These are only some of the ways that history shapes how we live in the present and how our present will form the future.