History is one of the most important fields of study in which humans can learn about themselves. Yet, it can also be mind-bending, if you're not careful. Learning about the history of a company can help your chances of impressing that employer and getting hired. But if you believe everything you read it can also distort your understanding of how the company operates.
In the 80s, Sting wrote a song called "History Will Teach Us Nothing," yet several of his songs draw from history. He was obviously taking artistic liberty to make a sarcastic point.
Why Studying History Is Empowering
People already understand that studying history is an intellectual activity. That could be why so many people are bored with it. If they grow up with the notion that they can never be as smart as Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein, who both died long ago, then they will program themselves to believe certain forms of intelligence are of no use to them. But Steve Jobs was able to see through the illusion of self-doubt and make things happen that people said couldn't be done. It had to do with studying history and learning how to apply tangents to timelines of thinking.
Anyone is capable of learning history, since it's not as complex or demanding as learning engineering. The more you learn about the events that shaped the modern world, the more you can be a player in the modern world and affect change. One of the reasons people are afraid to study history is because they are afraid of the changes in thinking that it may spark. People raised on The Bible, for example, without ever questioning how it was put together and how it was used by governments to exploit slave labor, typically don't feel comfortable with learning information that is contrary to their early indoctrination.
One advantage to not knowing history is that it can free your mind of unnecessary lessons learned from over-thinking history. The idea that history always repeats is a myth in the sense that time is constantly unfolding into new scenarios. While history may repeat in general situations, it doesn't usually repeat in terms of exact details. Therefore, you cannot always predict that certain lessons from history will apply to certain similar scenarios.
Why History Should Be Questioned
History is like a double-edged sword. While it provides clarity how systems came into being, it also requires questioning the sources. The old saying "don't believe everything you read" has a lot of truth to it. Some people, however, misinterpret the saying to mean "don't believe anything you read," which leads to the lazy conclusion that history isn't worth studying because it's full of misleading propaganda.
History books are in fact loaded with propaganda. Every culture teaches its people that its core is positive and provides guidelines to a better life. Therefore, history books can be biased when they brag about military victories while leaving out details of deficits. A high percentage of textbooks in the United States filter through the American Historical Association, which is a huge membership of historians who write the books that shape the minds of many Americans about history.
The best approach to studying history is to pay attention to sources and then find out what their agendas are in relation to the content. Collecting facts requires a certain amount of questioning. Usually when various sources agree on the facts, the information is regarded as valid. One of the best tests for weeding out bad information is to ask: who paid for the information to be distributed? Sometimes biases can immediately be identified just from considering the source. Independent research often has more credibility than research designed for commercial purposes.