Why do history?

I teach, research, and study history because I believe that it has the potential to expand our humanity.  By studying the past, we learn more about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a member of a society.  Most of all, we learn that nothing is certain – history provides a way for us to argue back when people say we should only think about things in a certain way, and it makes us look at problems from lots of different angles.

If I could choose to meet anyone from the past, it would be the sixteenth-century French author Montaigne.  His Essays are a companion through life.  And what I admire so much about Montaigne is his exploration of the idea of doubt.  Through what he writes, as well as the way he writes it, he challenges us to question and doubt all the things we feel most sure about.  But he also keeps a strong sense of right and wrong.  To doubt, whilst knowing right from wrong, is I think, one of the greatest goals of civilisation – and it’s something which the study of history can really help us to achieve.

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