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People have been fascinated about the people and events that came before for them for all of human history.
While the first recorded Greek history dates back to the time of the First Olympiad, or 776BC, people were writing about and preserving knowledge long before that.
The Greeks and Romans were masters of writing their own history, and their elaborate accounts eventually gave way to the increasingly sophisticated methods adopted in the Medieval (manuscript) and Early Modern (print) periods.
Today, history as a discipline demands greater evidence and less bias than ever before.
We have diversified our interests away from the study of the great and the good, instead focusing on grass-roots history, history from below, gender history, black history, and every other kind of history you can think of. We are lending our voices to those in the past, and we are learning more about ourselves and where we came from in the process.
These history quotes are all about exploring our history: finding out what history really is, what it means to us as people, what we can learn from it, and what studying history is all about.
Quotes About What History Is
We’ve just talked a little bit about what the practice and discipline of history is, but defining history has been a subject that many people have weighed in on.
From scholars and writers to politicians and inventors, everyone has a differing opinion on why the past is relevant, and what the study of history is.
The dictionary defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs” or “a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events.” As a historian myself, I’d argue that history is much more than that! But I’ll let you decide for yourself while you read these quotes about what history is.
History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.Ambrose Bierce
The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler.Franz Kafka
What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.Victor Hugo
History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice.Will Durant
History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.Alexis de Tocqueville
History is a race between education and catastrophe.H.G. Wells
History is a vast early warning system.Norman Cousins
Human history in essence is the history of ideas.H.G. Wells
The pull, the attraction of history, is in our human nature. What makes us tick? Why do we do what we do? How much is luck the deciding factor?David McCullough
A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the shadows.Annie Besant
History reports that the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.Will Durant
Isn’t history ultimately the result of our fear of boredom?Emile Cioran
History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory.George Santayana
History provides no precise guidelines.Douglas Hurd
History has been the history of warfare.Godfrey Reggio
History is a resource.Laura Linney
History develops, art stands still.E.M. Forster
History is more or less bunk.Henry Ford
History, a distillation of rumour.Thomas Carlyle
Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.Voltaire
History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.Lord Acton
Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.Hermann Hesse
History shows that there are no invincible armies.Joseph Stalin
History is merely gossip.Oscar Wilde
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.Karl Marx
There is properly no history; only biography.Ralph Waldo Emerson
History is a pack of lies we play on the dead.Voltaire
To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.Hermann Hesse
History is a relay of revolutions.Saul Alinsky
I do not speak Hebrew, but I understand that it has no word for ‘history’. The closest word for it is memory.David Miliband
Blood alone moves the wheels of history.Martin Luther
Revolutions are the locomotives of history.Karl Marx
Black history is American history.Morgan Freeman
Quotes About People in History
When we think about history, we don’t just think broadly about the past. We focus in on specific events and specific people.
Arguably, the study of history is the study of people: a series of influential, significant figures who shape the way we see different phases of the past.
From politicians to religious leaders, notable orators and leading chroniclers, these figures didn’t just have a significant impact on the way people during their time thought about and experienced the world.
Whether we’re talking about Leonardo da Vinci or Lord Byron, Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King Jr., these historical figures still play an incredibly important role in shaping way we think about the events, movements, and changes that happened in the past.
People who make history know nothing about history. You can see that in the sort of history they make.G.K. Chesterton
The only history is a mere question of one’s struggle inside oneself. But that is the joy of it. One need neither discover Americas nor conquer nations, and yet one has as great a work as Columbus or Alexander, to do.D.H. Lawrence
History is formed by the people, those who have power and those without power. Each one of us makes history.Anselm Kiefer
History is a tool used by politicians to justify their intentions.Ted Coppell
Certain periods in history suddenly lift humanity to an observation point where a clear light falls upon a world previously dark.Anne Sullivan
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.Robert Kennedy
Anyone who believes you can’t change history has never tried to write his memoirs.David Ben Gurion
We are all tourists in history, and irony is what we win in wars.Anatole Broyard
It is not history which uses men as a means of achieving – as if it were an individual person – its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends.Karl Marx
I’ve been completely fascinated with history because it tells everything about what’s going to happen next because it’s cyclical, everything repeats in general.Emile Autumn
On the day when man told the story of his life to man, history was born.Alfred de Vigny
Today is either the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. Today we are making history.Eckhard Pfeiffer
The public history of modern art is the story of conventional people not knowing what they are dealing with.Golda Meir
People say history is boring, and that is true because people are boring. We haven’t changed since time began. We’re still the same. We’ve obviously made some changes.Colin Hay
The human race tends to remember the abuses to which it has been subjected rather than the endearments. What’s left of kisses? Wounds, however, leave scars.Bertolt Brecht
I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.James Baldwin
Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.Oscar Wilde
I believe that we must maintain pride in the knowledge that the actions we take, based on our own decisions and choices as individuals, link directly to the magnificent challenge of transforming human history.Daisaku Ikeda
History is who we are and why we are the way we are.David McCullough
The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.George Orwell
The historic ascent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarized as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind forces – in nature, in society, in man himself.Leon Trotsky
People have an annoying habit of remembering things they shouldn’t.Christopher Paolini
History of the world is the biography of the great man. And I said: The great man always act like a thunder. He storms the skies, while others are waiting to be stormed.Thomas Carlyle
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.Martin Luther King Jr.
After making a mistake or suffering a misfortune, the man of genius always gets back on his feet.Napoleon Bonaparte
History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.Malcolm X
The past changes a little every time we retell it.Hilary Mantel
Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.C. Wright Mills
Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.Percy Bysshe Shelley
History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.B.C. Forbes
We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.Henry Ford
The main thing is to make history, not to write it.Otto von Bismarck
Never doubt that you can change history. You already have.Marge Piercy
The best prophet of the future is the past.Lord Byron
History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living, who do all this.Karl Marx
Quotes About Learning From History
You might’ve heard the old saying that goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. And history shows us that, in a lot of ways, this is true.
However, there are many other valuable lessons that we can learn from studying history, whether our own or the history of somewhere, or someone, entirely different.
When we become familiar with different cultures we grow in respect for its rituals and traditions, however far removed they are from our own. When we engage with the past, we are able to consider how far we have come and how fortunate we are to live as we do.
Whether you use them to reflect on the past or be grateful for the present, these quotes are all about learning from history.
Life moves fast. As much as you can, learn from your history, you have to move forward.Eddie Vedder
The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes.Adolf Hitler
History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor.Mahmoud Darwish
Patriotism ruins history.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.Plato
Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.Edward Murrow
History is written by the victors.Winston Churchill
What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.George Wilhelm Hegel
The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.Aldous Huxley
A generation which ignores history has no past – and no future.Robert A. Heinlein
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.George Bernard Shaw
History shows you don’t know what the future brings.Rick Wagoner
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.Edward Gibbon
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.Bar Rafaeli
If you think you have it tough, read history books.Bill Maher
If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.George Bernard Shaw
One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.Will Durant
If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth.E.O. Wilson
The history of the past interests us only in so far as it illuminates the history of the present.Ernest Dimnet
All our experience with history should teach us, when we look back, how badly human wisdom is betrayed when it relies on itself.Martin Luther
The so-called lessons of history are for the most part the rationalizations of the victors. History is written by the survivors.Max Lerner
There runs a strange law through the length of human history – that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves.G.K. Chesterton
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always.Mahatma Gandhi
History, we can confidently assert, is useful in the sense that art and music, poetry and flowers, religion and philosophy are useful. Without it — as with these — life would be poorer and meaner; without it we should be denied some of those intellectual and moral experiences which give meaning and richness to life. Surely it is no accident that the study of history has been the solace of many of the noblest minds of every generation.Henry Steele Commager
The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.Eric Hoffer
Sometimes history takes things into its own hands.Thurgood Marshall
If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.Baruch Spinoza
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.Maya Angelou
Our history is not our destiny.Alan Cohen
Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.Anne Sullivan
History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.E.L. Doctorow
Whatever we do or fail to do will influence the course of history.Arthur Henderson
Human blunders usually do more to shape history than human wickedness.A.J.P. Taylor
If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.Michael Crichton
History never looks like history when you are living through it.John W. Gardner
On human stupidity: It is one of the most powerful forces that shape history.Yuval Noah Harari
Ideas shape the course of history.John Maynard Keynes
Sometimes – history needs a push.Vladimir Lenin
The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.Gerda Lerner
Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?
Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.Fidel Castro
Quotes about Learnign from the Past
There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in history. From an elementary school obsession with Ancient Egypt to completing a PhD in Renaissance history, my thirst for knowledge about the past has always been an important aspect of my personality.
Many historians will tell you the same thing. And yet, the study of history is in decline. In late 2018, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that history has been declining more rapidly than any other major in the last decade, even as more and more students attend college. Children are in danger of losing their ability to interpret the past, as history lessons at school level are increasingly pushed out of the curriculum.
Losing our interest in, and grip on, the past shouldn’t even be a consideration today! With resources and collections of artifacts, books, manuscripts, and images increasingly available online, it is easier than ever before to engage with the past. Whatever you are interested in, I hope that these quotes about writing history inspire you to learn more.
Hindsight is the historian’s necessary vice.Hilary Mantel
Study the past if you would define the future.Confucius
Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.H.L. Mencken
No harm’s done to history by making it something someone would want to read.David McCullough
Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.Napoleon Bonaparte
People take the longest possible paths, digress to numerous dead ends, and make all kinds of mistakes. Then historians come along and write summaries of this messy, nonlinear process and make it appear like a simple, straight line.Dean Kamen
The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.Mark Twain
The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.E.L. Doctorow
Memoirs are the backstairs of history.George Meredith
Yeah, I read history. But it doesn’t make you nice. Hitler read history, too.Joan Rivers
To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse.Barbara Tuchman
I go into my library and all history unrolls before me.Alexander Smith
Like a historian, I interpret, select, discard, shape, simplify. Unlike a historian, I make up people’s thoughts.Hilary Mantel
You don’t hate history, you hate the way it was taught to you in high school.Stephen Ambrose
A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.Norman Cousins
Each one writes history according to his convenience.Jose Rizal
It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.Henry James
Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.Winston Churchill
There is an ancient Indian saying that something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it. My people have come to trust memory over history. Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable while history serves only those who seek to control it, those who douse the flame of memory in order to put out the dangerous fire of truth. Beware these men for they are dangerous themselves and unwise. Their false history is written in the blood of those who might remember and of those who seek the truth.Floyd Red Crow Westerman, X-Files: The Blessing Way
I hope you’ve enjoyed this huge collection of history quotes. What is your favorite thing about studying the past? Share it with us in the comments!