History can be so fascinating and captivating. While some students might consider it a slew of old-fashioned or tedious facts, history can be a treasure trove of forgotten stories and lessons that still hold relevance today.

Take, for example, the inspiring story of Charles Dickens, who was sent to work in a British factory at age 10 (a little known fact that may have inspired his famous work ‘Oliver Twist’). Or H.G. Wells, who wrote ‘War of the Worlds’ as a vehicle to discuss the validity of late-nineteenth century British colonialism. 

The way we approach and share history is what truly matters. We are fortunate to have dedicated teachers like Mr Luke, who brings history to life and inspires our students with his worldly knowledge. Mr Luke’s approach to history isn’t just sharing a profusion of information to pass an exam. Instead he makes history a subject that sparks curiosity and opens doors to a deeper understanding of our past and future.

Words from Mr Luke below.

As a History teacher, one of the first questions I am asked is, “Why is studying History important?” I find this to be a very valid and relevant question. After all, we rarely have to ask why we study Maths, Science, and English, as the importance of these subjects is clear in our day-to-day lives. However, History can be less clear. Why is it important to study the stories and events from our past? How can things that occurred hundreds to thousands of years ago affect us today?

To answer these questions, I believe the first step is to change our thinking about the subject. Many people think of History as an endless list of names and dates and events that happened at some point in the past. Many will conjure a picture of a timeline in their heads as they organise what they know. However, this tends to disconnect us from the big picture. 

The advice I have been giving to my IGCSE students is to begin thinking of History as more of a vast puzzle or painting. The more we learn about the past, the more clear the image becomes–the more the puzzle is filled in. Without this view of the past, we only see a fragmented picture of reality.

Studying History is an exciting journey filled with questions and discovery. Discovery of the past but also discovery of the skills required to navigate the complexities of the past and the present alike. Historians are like detectives; they gather information to piece together a puzzle which in many cases has lots of missing pieces. It’s fun, it’s interesting but it does require patience, the ability to think logically but most importantly the commitment to read, research and write.

Philosopher George Santyana once wrote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ and it is within the words of Santyana’s observation that one can find reason for undertaking study in this multifaceted and intriguing discipline.

Indeed, Billy Joel’s 1989 hit ‘We Didn’t’ Start The Fire’, not only mentions Santyana but takes the listener on a five minute journey through some of the most significant events of the modern world. When first released this song was heralded as a musical masterpiece but for the budding young historian it represented much more; an opportunity to explore the ‘how’ and ‘why’.

Why did Billy Joel include the events that he did and how did he determine those events as  the ones ‘significant’ enough to include in his song?

So, why study history? William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist summed it up best when he wrote – ‘The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past’.

A good example of this is in the study of the rise of dictators which took place in the early 20th century. When we know how individuals like Hitler and Mussolini were able to come to power, we can recognise the warning signs of this authoritarianism in the present day. When we look back further, to ancient cultures, we can see the beginnings of systems we still follow to this day, allowing us to better understand and question why we follow them.

Every teacher tends to think the subject they teach is the most important, but in many ways I find History to be the most crucial in terms of preparing students for the future. As one famous author once said, “If you don’t know History, you don’t know anything.”