Do We Learn Lessons from the Past?

Thanks to everyone who shared their comments the last couple days. I appreciate the seriousness and thoughtfulness that go into that virtual conversation!

But as with the first couple rounds of blog commenting, a fair number of people in class didn’t participate at all and are stuck with a 0/5 for that portion of their participation grade.

But in order to interrogate an idea that came up several times in the “usable past” discussion, I’m going to create a second chance for anyone to get partial credit for blog commenting this week… (of course, I’d also welcome contributions from those who already shared a comment on Thursday or Friday)

No later than the start of class on Monday, please share a short but thoughtful reply to the following question:

When have we learned a lesson from the past? Several of you said (in your response papers or blog comments) that this was perhaps the most importance “use” of the past. So, what’s a specific example of that theme: What was the lesson and how was it learned?


7 thoughts on “Do We Learn Lessons from the Past?

  1. Indeed, I am one that agrees that lessons learned from the past are one of the most important aspects of studying history. One of the more important observations I’ve made while studying the past is the importance of noticing what brings unity to a people group, and what brings disunity. As we come out of this political season I am driven to look at other points in the American past that have brought disunity, while the most evident periods are indeed the civil rights era, as well as the civil war (obviously). And also periods that have brought unity, whether post-9/11 America, or World War 2. Both of these, whether unity or disunity, prove a point about our people that can only be seen while studying the past and confirms that this is a deeply important discourse. In order to know a people to their fullest, one must study all aspects of them: not just the positive. The lesson that can be learned from unifying events is that when we as a people truly feel threatened, unity is our first response (9/11, WW2). While the second lesson that can be learned regarding disunity, is simply the realization that we must interact with our past that is relatively evil (i.e., slavery, racism). How will we as Americans respond to the most significant events of our nation’s history and future, with unity or disunity? I believe the past can inform for us what is a requirement for both to take place.


  2. One of my favorite things about studying history is that it helps me understand the present day better. It is easy to think that the way things are now is the way that they have always been. For example, it was surprising to me that the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954. In Christian subculture it can be easy to think that America has always been Christian but its important to look at these small details to make sure we are seeing everything in full perspective. Understanding how the past develops helps us to understand our own beliefs better.

    We cant fully understand the freedoms and privileges we have today if we do not look back and recognize all of the work it took to get here. I love to study women’s history and the waves of feminism because if it wasn’t for those women I would most likely not be able to study at a university! Understanding that past gives me a better appreciation for my opportunities now and it encourages me to not waste it!


  3. I do agree that one of the most important themes is “learning from the past”. The past can be such a vague place to look back into. But from wars, economic crisis, and political issues we see that past and attempt to redo the great things and avoid the negative things that happened. Examples to me that come to mind are when groups of people get together to try to create a change in the social norms of today’s society. A positive example is the civil rights movement, people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X tried to stand up for the social norm and fight it to be able to provide a better future. To me, I see a negative attempt of people getting together to fight the social norm is the black lives matter movement. Seeing how much more of a negative impact is being put out and shown by their actions to me show that this should be a lesson to be learned and not repeated. Seeing the past and trying to recreate what had happened is not always a good thing, but because it had worked once it is not bad to attempt. As a society, we learned that attempting to recreate the past is not always a good idea to do.


  4. I believe that the past is one of the best tools to help us in the present day and the future. Looking to the past is a great way to learn from mistakes we have made or build of things that have worked in the past. One example that jumps out to me is the topic of slavery in the United States. Slavery was One of Americas darkest times and reflects bad on us as a country. Obviously, since that time we have been able to learn a lot and come a long way. All humans have rights and deserve and equal chance. in fact, the U.S. government is based off of those beliefs. We still have far to go with everyone standing by those beliefs but after seeing the horrors of slavery and segregation we have learned from our mistakes and have attempted to do better. The lesson we learned from this horrible time is that a human is a human no matter what they look like. We were able to learn this lesson sadly by witnessing the brutal treatent of many African Americans. It is an ongoing process and we will need to continue to improve.


  5. We learn from the past almost everyday. What you learn is entirely up to you though. I also agree that what we learn from the past is certainly the most important part of the process. Learning from past mistakes or just learning what went why for people and why it went right can help the people of today avoid unneeded mistakes and make better choices to reach a better conclusion then you would have if you didn’t learn anything in the first place. Basically what you get out of the past can shape the way you live your life today.


  6. The past can be a great tool to use when looking at how to approach the present or future. Being able to use the past in this way helps us grow and learn from the mistakes or successes previously made so that our decisions can be more educated and provide the best outcomes. It also can help us to more critically evaluate our current decisions, as we do not want to make a decision that in the future we will look back on as a mistake. One example of this is how after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 airport security has dramatically increased. We have taken a past event and used it to help us today and in the future prevent attacks on airports and planes. This is just one bigger example that has happened more recently but I believe the past is being used everyday in this way.


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