One of my favorite YouTube channels is Crash Course, which tackles subjects in U.S. History, Literature, Chemistry, Biology, and Ecology. The Green brothers accompany their lessons with pop culture references, fun animations, and an irrational amount of excitement about the Mongols, but my favorite part of the series is John’s frequent explanations of why studying history is important. I’d like to share a couple that I think are applicable to the study of the humanities generally; maybe you can bring them up the next time your school district wants to replace foreign languages with business classes or the study of literature with technical writing.
The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools, and bars, and hospitals, and dorm rooms, and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the million decisions that, when taken together, make your life yours. And everything, everything will be on it. (00:16-00:53)
There’s no answer to be found there, but the opportunity of studying history is the opportunity to experience empathy. Now, of course, we’re never going to know what it’s like to be someone else, to have your life saved or taken by decisions made by the Allied command. Studying history and making genuine attempts at empathy helps us to grapple with the complexity of the world, not as we wish it were, but as we find it (12:32-12:52)