Why are we so fascinated by history?

Why are we so fascinated by history?

Why are we so fascinated by history?

What draws us to the stories and experiences of those who came before us?

Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Highlands, Scotland

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by history. Growing up in Egypt, there was no shortage of amazing sites to visit, and of course the history of my homeland is absolutely fascinating. But once I left Egypt as a young woman and began travelling, I found I was equally fascinated by the histories of other peoples and places. The Coliseum in Rome, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the stone circle of Stonehenge in England – these places, and so many more, left me awestruck and eager to see more.

Readers of my novels will easily spot my passion for history. The heroine of my novel Aphrodite’s Tears is an archaeologist, for example, and monuments, temples and artefacts of Ancient Egypt feature prominently in Song of the Nile. For me, writing a new novel means diving into research on the country in which the book is set, and this is heaven! I don’t think I could ever tire of exploring and learning, and of course there is always so much more to learn.

But why learn? Why do so many of us feel this desire to explore what has come before?

Firstly, I think we are drawn to relics of the past in the same way that we are drawn to art and architecture from our current era. We find ruined castles and ancient temples and the like beautiful and inspiring.

Parthenon temple on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece

We are also, from such an early age, inspired by stories, and history is, of course, his-story – or, more appropriately I think, their-story. At its heart, history is a collection of stories, as colourful and dramatic and exciting and moving as any fictional tale.

Another attraction in studying history is that we are able to see how life now compares with life in olden times. We’re fascinated by how life used to be – what people ate and wore, what work they did, which gods they worshipped. Our knowledge can help us appreciate the life we have now, and it can show us where perhaps we have got lost along the way.

The Temple of Philae for the goddess Isis, which features in my novel Song of the Nile

The knowledge we can gain from history can inform so much in our modern lives. George Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Knowing the past can help us to live better today and in the future: to live together more peacefully, to build a better world.

To connect meaningfully and powerfully as people.

Ultimately, I think a passion for history is synonymous with a passion for understanding people – and through understanding others, we come to know ourselves. As Lord Acton wrote in the 19th century, ‘History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.’

‘An illumination of the soul’… when we think in those terms, it is clear why we are so drawn to history, and why it will always be of immense importance to our growth as individuals and as communities.

Photo credits: 1) Swen Stroop/Shutterstock.com; 2) Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com; 3) Unai Huizi Photography/Shutterstock.com.

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Ray Getzinger
Ray Getzinger
1 year ago

I love history because when I see ancient historical sites, I can visualize the Ancients who were a part of it. The first one I thought of was Areopagus in Athens, Mars Hill in the Bible. I sat there contemplating the biblical history. When I returned to Virginia I was asked to give a talk in Sabbath School about my thoughts on the visit. Temples of Apollo in different places and the and the Minoan Palace of Knossos had me seeing the Ancients more clearly than I saw the tourists at the sites. History lives for me.