Quotations on History

(1) “Peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

(2) “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

(3) "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors." Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

(4) "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards". Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

(5) “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana (1863-1952)

(6) “The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

(7) “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

(8) “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

(9) “Consciousness of the past alone can make us understand the present.” Herbert Lüthy (1918-2002)

(10) “Until the lion has a historian of his own, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” African Proverb

(11) “The history of the world is the history of the privileged few.” Henry Miller (1891-1980)

(12) “History free of all values cannot be written. Indeed, it is a concept almost impossible to understand, for men will scarcely take the trouble to inquire laboriously into something which they set no value upon”. William H. B. Court (1904 - 1971)

(13) "The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation." E.H. Carr, What is History? (1961)

(14) “The justification of all historical study must ultimately be that it enhances our self-consciousness, enables us to see ourselves in perspective, and helps us towards that greater freedom which comes from self-knowledge.” Keith Thomas (born 1933)

(15) "We get our ethics from our history and judge our history by our ethics." Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923)

(16) “The task of the historian is to understand the peoples of the past better than they understand themselves.” Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979)

(17) “History has to be rewritten in every generation, because although the past does not change the present does; each generation asks new questions of the past, and finds new areas of sympathy as it re-lives different aspects of the experiences of its predecessors.” Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down. Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (1991)

(18) "The history we read though based on facts, is, strictly speaking, not factual at all, but a series of accepted judgments." Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984)

(19) “Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.” Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

(20) “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck by the difference between what things are and what they might have been.” William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

(21) “History is as much an art as a science.” Ernest Renan (1823-1892)

(22) “Men make their own history, but they do not know that they are making it.” Karl Marx (1818-1883)

(23) “There will always be a connection between the way in which men contemplate the past and the way in which they contemplate the present.” Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862)

(24) “History is the sextant and compass of states, which, tossed by wind and current, would be lost in confusion if they could not fix their position.” Alan Nevins (1890-1971)

(25) “The historians are the guardians of tradition, the priests of the cult of nationality, the prophets of social reform, the exponents and upholders of national virtue and glory” Philip Bagby (1918-1958)

(26) “The study of history is a personal matter, in which the activity is generally more valuable than the result.” V. H. Galbraith (1889-1976)

(27) “A society sure of its values had needed history only to celebrate the glories of the past, but a society of changing values and consequent confusions also needed history as a utilitarian guide.” Thomas Cochrane (1902-1990)

(28) “Man generally is entangled in insoluble problems; history is consequently a tragedy in which we are all involved, whose keynote is anxiety and frustration, not progress and fulfilment”. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1917-2007)

(29) “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” George Orwell (1903-1950)

(30) History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Winston Churchill on writing his history of the Second World War (1874-1965)

(31) “The aim of the historian, like that of the artist, is to enlarge our picture of the world, to give us a new way of looking at things.” James Joll (1918-1994)

(32) “A mere collector of supposed facts is as useful as a collector of matchboxes.” Lucien Febvre (1878-1956)

(33) “History is not a succession of events - it is the links between them.” E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973)

(34) “It is a mark of civilised man that he seeks to understand his traditions, and to criticise them, not to swallow them whole.” Moses Finley (1912-1986)

(35) “More history is made by secret handshakes than by battles, bills and proclamations.” John Barth (born in 1930)

(36) “The historian must not try to know what is truth, if he values his honesty; for, if he cares for his truths, he is certain to falsify his facts.” Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

(37) “Historians are dangerous people. They are capable of upsetting everything.” Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)

(38) Pronounce us guilty a thousand times over: the goddess of the eternal court of history will smile. She will acquit us.” Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

(39) “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” Fidel Castro (1926-2016)

(40) "It is a unique opportunity of recording, in the way most useful to the greatest number, the fullness of the knowledge which the nineteenth century is about to bequeath... By the judicious division of labour we should be able to do it, and to bring home to every man the last document, and the ripest conclusions of international research. Ultimate history we cannot have in this generation; but... now that all information is within reach, and every problem has become capable of solution." John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902)

(41) "The greater number of historical writers failed entirely to understand what was expected of them. They turned their faces away from their audience and towards their subject, turned deliberately from the present to the past… They are no more concerned with the ultimate outcome of their studies than is the research scientist with the use of poison gas in warfare. The final results arise not from the nature of the material but from the depravity of human beings; and historical research of the truly scholastic kind is not connected with human beings at all. It is pure study, like higher mathematics." Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, Velvet Studies (1946)

(42) "One would expect people to remember the past and imagine the future. But in fact, when discoursing or writing about history, they imagine it in terms of their own experience, and when trying to gauge the future they cite supposed analogies from the past; till, by a double process of repetition, they imagine the past and remember the future." Lewis Namier, Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History (1941)

(43) "No empirical activity is possible without a theory… All historians have ideas already in their minds when they study primary materials – models of human behaviour, established chronologies, assumptions about responsibility, notions of identity and so on. Of course, some are convinced that they are simply gathering facts, looking at sources with a totally open mind and only recording what is there, yet they are simply wrong to believe this." Ludmilla Jordanova, History in Practice (2000)

(44) "Understanding historical interpretation is vital to the study of the discipline of history and crucial to a wider understanding of contemporary historical culture and memory practices. Students need to come to understand the range of purposes and stances that interpretations of the past can express and practical, contextual and methodological reasons for variation in historical interpretation… We need to help students build understandings of interpretation that will enable them to explain variation rationally and appraise variant interpretation critically." Arthur Chapman, Historical Interpretations (2016)

(45) "We can build a world free of injustice, oppression, exploitation, bigotry, racism and violence, but if our time is to come, then we must learn from our past." Owen Jones (born 1984)