Why History?

What is history?

History is the study of past societies through the critical examination of available evidence including texts, words and objects. The Department of History offers students the opportunity to study both the distant and recent past by exploring a variety of different topics and themes. The analytical skills integral to studying history - essentially how people interacted with one another and their built and natural environments - provide students with opportunities to develop critical thinking and writing proficiencies in addition to an appreciation of past culture and societies.

What do historians do?
What do historians study? Some sample courses include:
  • HIST 2140 The Atlantic Slave Trade is a comparative survey of the Transatlantic Slave Trade 1503-1851, from West African origins through the oceanic Middle Passage to the formation of slave societies in the Americas. This course examines processes of enslavement, commodification, shipboard resistance, sale and adaptation, and the international movement to abolish the slave trade.
  • HIST 3749 Social History of Alcohol examines the motivations behind those who have tried to regulate or prohibit the consumption of alcohol and those who wish to consume it. In order to identify what alcohol consumption ‘meant’ in the past we will explore who drank what, where they drank it, and why. The course focuses on Europe from approximately 1600 onwards, but also discusses patterns of alcohol consumption in North America.
  • HIST 3811 The Menace of Progress: Colonialism and the Making of the Modern World encourages students to think critically about ideas of progress, enlightenment, and civilization by examining the emergence of the modern world and its relationship to colonialism. It explores the rise of the West by examining global history since the fifteenth century. Course topics include the transatlantic slave trade, enclosure, the destruction of Indian cotton manufacturing, and consumer culture.
  • HIST 3813 Gendered History: Women in Newfoundland and Labrador examines the experiences of women in Newfoundland and Labrador with an emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It explores the interaction of women’s lives and the province’s social, political and economic history. Topics to be covered include work (paid and unpaid); childbearing and child rearing; immigration and emigration; political activity; and legal status.
Why is history important?

History helps understand how the world changes. In a world that changes rapidly, history matters more than ever.

According to this New Yorker article, history "helps us understand how we got here and why things are the way they are."

"The best scientists know they need their humanity colleagues – in a firm as much as a college": this article from The Guardian explains why history is important in the 21st century.

Thucydides is still influential: this episode of the CBC program Ideas explains why the ancient Greek historian who lived 2500 years ago has set standards for critical thinking that are still worth considering today.

To learn more about history

The website of the Canadian Historical Association provides information about teaching and research in history in Canada.

ActiveHistory.ca is a website prepared by Canadian historians "that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events."

The Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) is a Canadian organization whose objectives are to "explore the historical context of environmental matters and communicate our findings to researchers, policymakers, and the public."