‘Survival of the fittest’ – this is the primary pillar of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The axiom can, however, misguide readers into interpreting a completely different meaning than what the theory intended. Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, perhaps explained this misconception in the best manner possible when he wrote:
“According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
Thus, it is the ability to transform and adapt according to their surroundings that has aided in the evolution of humankind so far. We are who we are because of this selective evolution. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be able to understand ourselves better by studying this evolution carefully? Absolutely, and a majority of literate humans have been exposed to this field of study – History. Then why is studying History not popular? Why aren’t historical events discussed as much as politics or technology at a social gathering?
The most pressing limitation here is the preconceived image of studying History in the common minds. In my entire lifetime, I have only interacted with a handful of people who enjoy studying History and learning more about our past. Most of the individuals tend to find it boring, and for many, it was their least preferable subject in school. Yet a lot of them enjoyed listening to mythological stories, and not only remembered them well but also learned many lessons from them. Historical events are just as thrilling as the stories from scriptures around the world, if not more, and I believe that it is not History itself but the process of learning that puts them off the subject. For instance, in most of the education systems of India such as CBSE and ICSE, History is taught in the style of natural sciences, rather than social sciences. Importance is given to remembering the dates and other minute details of historical events instead of analysing the impact of such events on society. When students fail to memorise and regurgitate the same in the examination hall, they naturally get demotivated and the desire to learn more slowly vanishes. Major amends and modifications are required in the syllabus of this subject to motivate students. Considering the rise in ultra-nationalism, terrorism and growing tensions around the world, it is the need of the hour to learn from our past and not make the same mistakes again.
Anyone who enjoys reading about historical events knows that several events of society take place in a cyclical manner. More often than not, chaos arises soon after the formation of a civilization. This is usually followed by the control of that chaos via oppressive and restrictive measures. The oppression makes way for a revolution, which consequently aims to establish a new system. Generally, there are two forms of establishing this new system. The first form is instituted by tyrannists who wish to control the revolution for their selfish means and mislead the masses into forming another oppressive state. For instance, Napoleon Bonaparte rode on the wave of French Revolution, which aimed to abolish monarchy, and became the first Emperor of France. He successfully thwarted off all enemy forces invading the country and crowned himself for this achievement – the exact opposite of what the common citizens of France had hoped for. While the first form of establishing a new system is an outright betrayal of the people’s trust, the second form is not that well off either. Organised by a group of like-minded, benevolent individuals, it aims to end the era of torture. It is the comedy of fate that more of than not, these idealistic systems eventually succumb to corruption after a few years of administration. Although these forms follow separate ideologies, they both cause the return of society to its original state of chaos and start the never-ending cycle towards stability once again.
This is not ground-breaking news, and the information is available in a surfeit of publications, but humanity’s arrogance veils its vision and we willingly perpetrate the same blunders over and over again. Additional to ignoring the errors of the past, humankind conveniently displays indifference to important moral lessons that have been passed on over the generations. History is not just the study of crisis management; it is also the study of what it means to be human. The word ‘Philosophy’, which plays a major role while studying History, originates from the Greek word philosophia, which means the “love of knowledge, pursuit of wisdom”. The evolution of human philosophy demonstrates our thirst for knowledge and helps us understand a lot of the nuances that we display today. Why do we care for each other? What allows us to live alongside, cooperate and even form outlandish organisations with thousands of other human beings? How did we start behaving so starkly different from the rest of the species on this planet? All of these can be answered by studying History since it helps us understand our own thought-process. Not so long ago, individuals having the curiosity to learn about a particular historical event or period used to get demotivated by the extremely highbrow language of the content available to them. That is certainly not the case anymore as there is an abundance of websites such as Khan Academy and Hisory.com with fun and interactive lessons for learning History. Moreover, books such as Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari provide a better picture of our past in a clear, engaging and even humorous manner at times. One need not dive deep into thick textbooks anymore to gain knowledge about a certain event or how it affected us.
The path to a better understanding of our history at elementary levels involves a simple procedure. Parents, and especially parents from developing nations, need to understand the value that an education in social sciences brings, and how it helps their children become better versions of themselves. Once this change in perception is achieved by society, education systems in developing countries such as India would automatically start paying more attention to the field of Humanities. The focus towards Humanities will inevitably lead to modifications in both its curriculum and the faculty. Students will have more career options to choose from, and consequently, we will have more intellectually diverse groups of individuals in our society. Relationships would not be based on vocations entirely, and social interactions would be far more enriching. Folks at a party might discuss the impact that the age of exploration had on the Americas, or how the cold war was mostly devastating for the middle east in reality. Besides, when people have sufficient knowledge about their past, they are instinctively more aware of their actions in the present. Self-awareness can lead to a significant decrease in global conflicts, and hopefully, to a better tomorrow. Hence, do not learn history merely to know the past, but also to amend the present for a brighter future.
– Shashwat Jha