Subscribe for 33¢ / day

History. So what?

Henry Ford did not believe in history. “History is bunk” he maintained in an interview in October 1921. He thought engaging everything in the pursuit of future goals and aspirations completely overwhelmed any need for history. He went so far as to say history did not need to be learned or considered. It provided nothing for us to learn.

So, the man who helped to revolutionize manufacturing gave little credence to even discussing the past. But is history really important? Do we need to understand what has happened behind us as we plunge headlong into the future? Is learning from the past a necessary part of our thinking, planning, organizing, hoping? Who cares about past successes and failures? Today is today. Yesterday is yesterday. History provides nothing new.

But history plays a larger role in our lives than we might imagine. Right now as you read this, history is passing along behind you. One moment you are reading this word and moving to the next one. What you just read is history. History begins anew each and every moment, and sometimes we ruefully wish we could gather up some of those moments to rework them, relive them or simply toss them somewhere so we will no longer be haunted by their presence.

History is now. What happens each second becomes history and there are seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years that create who and what we are as human beings. That history portends how we view the world, our friends, our family, virtually everything we can sense at any given moment.

Whether we want to admit it or not, history has formed how we function inside our society and cultures. We can learn about ourselves by looking at how this succession of events created everything we have now become. Our roots in the past provide the value for what we understand and desire today. History is unavoidable.

But today’s technology-enriched culture is in danger of pushing history further and further away from our personal thought process. All things are needed now. Not yesterday. Not three minutes ago or five minutes from now. NOW. Little thought is given to looking back and seeing if something that may have worked in the past might give us a better solution. Rarely are we willing to study past eras where mistakes and missteps caused anguish and suffering we could apply to today’s best thinking. We must move ahead. We must stay focused on the future.

It may simply be age catching up with my personal thought process, but I’ve become deeply intrigued with how the past has shaped who we are as a community. How is it certain standards were set when they apparently fit little of what our experience is at this moment in time? Why were certain things considered extremely relevant for daily living suddenly changed so they have little to no relevance today?

When we travel outside our community where we have established our comfort and convenience, it typically is wise to try to understand the culture and history of the place where we are headed. Without any understanding of what shaped that culture, and why, we will probably flounder a bit in that new environment. Each and every generation experiences some of this same dilemma. Without some understanding of how certain values were established or certain necessities for living side by side were pushed aside, we struggle along, making many of the same faulty assumptions and errors which could have been avoided if we had simply looked back.

There was a time when part of our education, at least in this country, was devoted to history. We learned about how people functioned as a society, where the turmoil changed the perception of the populace and we developed the foundations we needed to live together. Even a barren desert has a history. It has affected any and all inhabitants in specific ways and left remnants of the past we can look at in the hopes of learning how best to overcome the desert’s challenge.

History contains a fullness that reflects some astonishing creations of the human experience. Henry Ford may have believed history is bunk, but Ford’s own history has provided many with the tools needed to push ahead with innovation and creativity. You’re history now, Henry, and we thank you for it.

Jim Volgarino is a Waterloo native, retired business owner and former teacher, and freelance writer.


Load comments