History Matters: Why Understanding the Past is Essential

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Duration 01:01:07

College of the Holy Cross

Edward O’Donnell is a professor of history at College of the Holy Cross. He is the author of several books, including Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age. He frequently contributes op-eds to publications like Newsweek and The Huffington Post, and has been featured on PBS, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and C-SPAN. O’Donnell also has curated several major museum exhibits on American history and appeared in several historical documentaries. He currently hosts a history podcast, “In the Past Lane.”




Almost everyone, it seems, knows a variation of the quote by the American philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”  But do we really know why it’s important to study history?  Do we know what separates history from other academic subjects like math, science or psychology? Do we know what it is that historians do, or why it matters?  This presentation will broaden participants’ understanding of the significance of history beyond some elusive notion of “learning lessons.” Using vivid examples from topics such as the history of slavery, the Civil War, immigration, and women’s rights, Professor O’Donnell will explore the five essential elements of history and how they hold the potential to strengthen our democracy, promote human rights, boost a healthy patriotism, and inform our public policy decisions on issues such as taxes, healthcare, war and privacy.



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Janet Hasson

Nice overview and specific examples from the past and present illustrating the speaker’s main points. Great reinforcement of the importance of studying history. Well done!

1 year ago
Rosalind Kurzer

Great overview

Tight, concise presentation with good examples of how we use history to rationalize our behavior.

8 months ago
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