History is more than a collection of facts about people who once lived and were famous, and records of episodes that once transpired and jolted the course of human events. This view of history may be good for text-books, and for memorizing names and dates.
But it is a lot more than that. History serves many purposes. In so far as history embodies names and actions that were once part of a nation’s life, it is the collective memory of a people. History is the collective memory of a group, a nation, of humanity. Ignoring history would be the equivalent (for a group) as memory loss would be for an individual.
History informs us about the movers and shakers of the past. It inspires the current generation by revealing the great achievements of the people who lived in other periods. National histories sometimes instill pride in one’s ancestors: a privilege that, in our own times, is beyond the reach of new immigrants to a country. History can also warn us of the blunders that others once committed without realizing the long range effects of their actions.
Most of all history is the story of significant changes that have occurred in the world. These changes may have been fast or slow, good or bad, but they make one period ever so different from another. In other words the running thread in history is change. When change is arrested it leads to stagnation. When monumental changes are too fast or too sudden we have revolutions. History teaches us that there have been many many changes as a result of which the world in which we live today is considerably different from the world in which people lived a hundred or a thousand years ago.
Another aspect of changes in history is that sometimes they are utterly unpredictable, brought about by factors over which we have little control and about whose occurrence few could have surmised, and by persons who suddenly rise ro prominence and power.
Four kinds of history
There are, in spatial terms, at least four kinds of history.
First there is local history. This could be the history of a family or of a community. Then are is regional history. This refers to the history of a village or town, of a state or country. Thus there can be the history of the city of Ames in Iowa or of Kolkata in West Bengal; the history of the province of Burgundy in France or of Ashanti in Ghana. Then there is national history: the histories of Great Britain and Poland, or of Iran and Japan, for example. Finally there is global history: the history of humanity, of the whole world.
Beyond all this, and quite unconnected to the human condition are planetary and astronomical histories, ranging from the history of the earth and of Mars to that of stars and galaxies and of the universe at large.