History is generally regarded as one of the earliest scholarly pursuits. Going back through time, it is easy to see why history is such an important part of who we are as a people and how people see themselves. As far back as there has been human beings living on earth, there has been history, because it was always such an ingrained part of each person’s existence. Families would tell their children oral histories about their ancestors, their pasts, and the history of their lands. Artists would depict parts of history on cave walls or inside temples, either paintings or carvings, and when writing became a part of civilizations, they would record their history on parchment and later on paper.
Sometimes, history was exaggerated and blurred with mythology or legend, while in other cultures, true historians would search for the facts of an event or historical person and write down just the facts as they were proven to be so. Some history is influenced by the people and the culture, or that region’s religion, but history all shares a common factor: it influences the way people see themselves within the context of their lives and their lands, and influences the way people feel about their place in the world.
The meaning of history is quite simple, really. It is a study of the past, and when researchers, scholars, and teachers talk about history they generally mean the past events, people, and places that shaped the way a particular country, land, or civilization evolved, but we can trace the history of anything or anyone. When we talk about history, it is usually in reference to, basically, anything that has happened in the past. The history of the United States, for example, or the history of music, is how we trace the evolution of something and learn to understand it from its earliest beginnings until the present. History is the way we view our past, but it is also, in many cases, a search for the truth, especially in today’s definition of history. Today, we see history as a study of the facts of the past. Instead of thinking about the Trojan war in reference to the mythology of goddesses and gods at work in people’s lives, we think about it from the perspective of the archaeological site discovered and what historical facts have been discovered about ancient Troy. It is a search for the truth of how we became who we are and how the world has changed over time.
It is very likely that our societal background influences the way that we define history, because each culture has its own version of what history truly is and how that affects the way they move forward. For example, those of the Jewish religion hold very firmly to their past as outlined in the Old Testament, and in the 20th century, Israel was re-established and created as a country for the Jews because of a direct link to the fact that their history claimed that area as their homeland. We view ourselves based upon our history a lot of the times, and it is easy to imagine that if we live in the United States, we are the way we are largely because of the influences we have growing up and learning about our history, from the independent nature of the colonists during the American Revolution to the chaos of life during the years of the Vietnam War. The society in which we live determines how much our history influences our national pride and the way we feel about other people and countries and religions, and how we feel about ourselves. History, however, has not always been defined as a search for the truth or a dictation of the past. In fact, in many cultures, like Ancient Rome or Greece, history was interwoven so closely with mythology and folklore that it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. The roles of gods and goddesses within the lives of humans and within their battles and wars and triumphs were, at one time, as accepted a part of history as the facts, so at some point, history was, most definitely, defined differently. The study of history is an important part of any course of study because it helps us understand our place within the world and the past as it relates to how it has helped define us.