The Relevance of History in Our Lives

History plays a significant role in skills development and personal transformation, moulding individuals into better citizens and more proficient professionals.

This was expressed by WOU tutor, Hari Chandaran Arumugam, during his online talk on ‘How Relevant is History in Our Society Today?’ organised by WOU’s School of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences (SEHS) on 26 August 2023.

Defining history as the knowledge and study of past events related to people, countries and periods, Hari pointed out that history is present in many fields, including medicine, music, art, sports, geography, and even religion.

History is present everywhere, says Mr Hari.

In the context of nation-building, he said that history inculcates a sense of national identity, which is very crucial in today’s political landscape. He highlighted how understanding and knowing the nation’s creation, from the founding of the Malayan Union in 1946 to Malaysia’s formation in 1963, can foster a strong sense of nationhood and deep patriotism

He explained, “It will instil national loyalty and strong nationalism that reflect the slogan ‘one nation, one race’. When you grasp the political situation in Malaysia, you will become better informed citizens with a greater awareness of the key elements that form a democratic society.”

Another role of history is to help us understand present-day issues and changes, such as providing insights into questions like why nations go to war and why a particular political party wins in an election. He continued, “By learning about past war atrocities, economic recessions and wartime sufferings, governments can take deterrent measures to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.”

The past should not be forgotten.

Hari also underscored the importance of history as a valuable framework for decision-making, by relying on historical materials, lessons from the past, and historical research.

“Reading history involves not only the inquiry and interpretation of historical facts but also the analysis of information from multiple sources. This process can reveal decisive truths on numerous topics and influence your decision-making,” he said. He noted that “history” is derived from the Greek word ‘Historia’, which translates to “inquiry, investigation, or research to elicit the truth’.

History can also be a tool to analyse past problems in order to better understand and solve current and future problems. “The study of history helps us to become more impartial decision-makers, for example, in drafting policies for companies or government.”

Historical research involves critical thinking.

Hari said that examining primary and secondary sources in historical research develops our ability to discern the reliability of the source. “You will learn to assess the accuracy of historical facts and differentiate them from opinions.”

He observed that the ability to interpret information logically and rationally is applicable across many industries in today’s workplace, adding, “You will acquire valuable skills highly preferred by employers and advantageous in your job search.”

Additionally, history provides essential knowledge about civilisations which are characterised by urbanisation, political and social structures, economic development, writing systems, religion and cultural achievements. “If we want to understand society and the evolution of people, we need to delve into the past. You will be surprised by the profound knowledge and outstanding accomplishments of ancient civilisations in astronomy, architecture, and medicine,” he said.

The webinar was facilitated by Dr Ooi Chia Yi, Senior Lecturer from SEHS.

Hari asserted that learning history is not a waste of time, since it has practical applications in various fields, both in the public and private sectors. He concluded that history, often considered the ‘mother of knowledge’, serves as the basis for political, economic and social studies.

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