10 Dec 2012

The Importance of History

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History means many things to many people, over the years scholars have debated on end with a view to providing a proper definition for a word so timeless. However it is generally agreed that History could either mean the past, or the study of the past. In the academic context, History simply means teaching the past to others; in most situations its either kids or grownups. Personally, drawing from all the definitions of history I have read, post modernist or ancient, I believe History to be the study of the past, and how it affects the future. The study of the past would be with the view to setting some sort of guideline which would provide an insight to the corrections to be made on past errors. Now am just saying this because it seems logical enough; as a historian, I have come to learn that the reason for reflection on the past is basically to smoothen the road to the future and balance the present. Maybe I am laying too much emphasis on “correcting wrongs”, maybe it all seems superfluous… I am writing this because I have noticed that History as a discipline has been relegated to the background in most academic institutions.

I would like to begin from the tertiary institutions in Nigeria, and what is obtainable therein when selecting courses of study. Personally, I believe people should stop “belittling” the importance of some courses of study. Particularly, most people frown at the idea of studying such courses as Philosophy, History, Linguistics, Creative Arts, and a host of other courses in the humanities. To some, it is a waste of time, to me it is not. Now to History; people most people tend to ignore the importance of History as a course. I never really did want to study History myself, I always thought it was not a “fancy” course, and I wanted to study Law (fancy huh). I had always dreamed of being a Lawyer, but after trying to get into the department at the University of Lagos three times without getting admission, I changed my mind. I just wanted to get an education (education is very important to me). So I opted for History the final time I sat for Jamb…… and I got in. studying History changed my perspective about the course. My initial thoughts were of History as a boring course, but as I studied it, I was “converted”.

As an undergraduate, I took a keen interest in American History. I loved the move of the Americans from obscurity under the British to attaining the status of world power centuries after. You see, America reminded me a lot of Nigeria after her independence. There were some minor similarities in the “struggle” for independence; although Nigeria’s heroes never bled in the course of seeking independence like their American contemporaries. Studying History made me realize the true way things work in the International system. I paid really good attention in my international relations classes, so I learned a few things about the way things work. Before the end of the Second World War, the African continent seemed to be subdued. With the height of racism in the western hemisphere, and the new imperialism taking over most of Africa, the Second World War brought a ray of hope for Africans the world over. It meant the freedom of the black man to openly challenge his “master”.

Barely decades after the great war, African countries all over the world began to take their independence. However, one question that was always in my heart was this, what happened to the fire? Especially in Nigeria; what happened to the spark that brought about independence? Were our leaders really fighting for our country or fighting for themselves? Why were they quick to forget where we had been as a nation?. Following the American model, after independence, things weren’t all peachy. The Civil War stopped the bid by the Confederates to secede, it was by no means easy, but they were able to pull through. When you read the words in the American national anthem, you cannot ignore the sense of pride they have in their country. The fought to sustain the common good, and because of that today, whether you like to admit it or not, even more Nigerians run to America for “greener pastures”.

I would never have had this sort of perspective if I had not studied History. My love for diplomacy also fueled my thoughts on what Nigeria could become if we changed our strategy in our foreign policies. The world doesn’t see Africa as “subdued” anymore. We can be a threat to the nations of the western hemisphere if only our leaders would just shape up!. You ask me
what history has to do with all this, I’ll remind you that everything that has ever been known to happen in the past was recorded by a historian. Without historians, people would not know enough to foster development and technological advancement. I know for a fact that even scientists refer to old documents when on the verge of making a new discovery. Heck, what would you be improving on if you didn’t have the past to guide you?.

I believe history should be taught at the secondary school level in Nigeria. As a corp member, I discovered that History as a subject has been relegated to the background by teachers. I think this is wrong. Every nation that intends to build future leaders should see it as a priority to teach youngsters about the history of their nation. Personally I believe the more you know about the past of your country, the more you’d decide whether to help to foster change or sell your allegiance elsewhere. Most of our thieving leaders today only remember the portion of our history that they choose to remember. Imagine having teachers of history who were probably witnesses of our nation’s struggle from obscurity who would teach students the truth. Asides this, history provides the youngster with a general knowledge of the vast people of his/her country.

The importance of history in the school curriculum can thus not be over emphasized. Most Africans criticize the nations of the western hemisphere; but the truth is they played the game of international politics, and they played it well. They learned from the failures of their past and made their homelands attractive to enough to make even blacks (who had been taken
initially as slaves) seek a better life with them; sometimes using their talents for them too. We should thus make the study of history a priority; we should as individuals and citizens of this great country learn from the past, and work on a way to providing a brighter future for our
generation and the ones to come.

by Opeyemi

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