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 2130 Seafaring Places and Seafaring Peoples; is a study of the places and people involved in maritime activities between Europe and Asia and in India, south-east Asia, China and Japan during the period of European expansion to the region.
  • HIST 2340 European Urban History; examines the development of urban networks and the growth of specific towns and cities in early modern and modern Europe. We will also study how these centres were perceived, and the roles of public spaces and public festivals. Much of this course is devoted to examining the conditions found in urban centres and the impact on local inhabitants. The course concludes with a study of nineteenth century urban boosterism.
  • HIST 2665 Sickness and Health in Western Society; examines changing understandings of disease causation and how the human body functions, the evolution of formal medical education, and the rise of medical institutions. Examples of fine art, literature, and popular culture will be integrated into lectures and seminars to help provide a comprehensive overview of what it has been like to be ill and well over the last three millennia.

Why is history important?

History helps understand how the world changes; in a world that changes ever more rapidly, history is more important 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.

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."


Department of History

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000