History is the study of change and development in society over time and space. It also draws on archaeology, palaentology, genetics and oral history to interrogate the past. The study of History enables us to understand and evaluate how past human action impacts on the present and influences the future.
A study of History builds the capacity of people to make informed choices in order to contribute constructively to society and to advance democracy. As a vehicle of personal empowerment, History engenders in learners an understanding of human agency. This brings with it the knowledge that, as human beings, learners have choices, and that they can make the choice to change the world for the better.
A rigorous process of historical enquiry:
• Encourages and assists constructive debate through careful evaluation of a broad range of evidence and diverse points of view;
• Provides a critical understanding of socio-economic systems in their historical perspective and their impact on people; and
• Supports the view that historical truth consists of a multiplicity of voices expressing varying and often contradictory versions of the same history. The study of History supports democracy by:
- Engendering an appreciation and an understanding of the democratic values of the Constitution;
- Encouraging civic responsibility and responsible leadership;
- Promoting human rights, peace, and democracy; and
- Fostering an understanding of identity as a social construct, preparing future citizens for local, regional, national, continental and global citizenship. As a vehicle for human rights, History:
- Enables people to examine with greater insight and understanding the prejudices involving race, class, gender, ethnicity and xenophobia still existing in society and which must be challenged and addressed; and
- Enables us to listen to formerly-subjugated voices, and focuses on the crucial role of memory in society. This comes particularly through an emphasis on oral history and an understanding of indigenous knowledge systems.
History teachers are sometimes asked: "Why should my child do History? Of what value is the subject? How will it benefit him in his future career?”
As in any academic subject, studying History is a mode of enquiry and is not merely a committing to memory of names and dates. What is involved is an investigation of the past; events, communities and people of the past are studied, not only because they are interesting in themselves, but because they develop within the young person his imagination and an understanding. Through these he will acquire an appreciation of his heritage and of his and other people's cultures.
Everything and everyone has a history and therefore it goes without saying that those who have little or no knowledge and understanding of the past cannot be fully orientated in the world of today. They have no grasp of why current trends in world affairs or developments in this country take the course they do, for these people have no background knowledge upon which to draw. Young people are more interested than one generally realises in 'what goes on around them'. A background knowledge that is obtained from a study of History enables the young person to acquire an understanding and perspective of the world in which he and others live and thus to contribute in a more positive way to constructive citizenship.
It follows, therefore, that taking History as a subject is beneficial to a young person irrespective of what career he may choose, for in that career he may require a positive sense of values and attitudes which come from a study of those human forces which have shaped the world in which we live and work.