James Norburn's column on the significance of history in the modern world

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James Norburn is a student at Abbeygate Sixth Form College in Bury. He is studying  A-levels in business, history and physical education. Here he gives his views on the significance of history in the modern world.  He argues that looking back is sometimes the only way to move forward...

History can be defined as the study of people, societies and events of the past. This has become increasingly more important today than it may have ever been, with the world we live in today being shaped by the events of the past. These events affect our ideologies, laws and local communities.  

Studying the past allows us to see where our own beliefs and ideologies originated from and how they worked in the past to see progression, stabilisation and sometimes flaws within our society. Being educated on such issues allows us to keep a democratic system where people feel as though they have the freedom to express their opinion and feel like their voice can be heard. Thus, we can evaluate the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis, by reflecting on the past. The idea of democracy dates back to 508-507 BC in Athens, whereas totalitarianism is first written about by Giovanni Amendola in 1923, showing once again political theorem is constantly developing through time.  

Laws, previsions and theories put into place in the last 1000 years are still used today. For instance, international law on nuclear war has meant tensions between global superpowers has diminished in the last thirty years. Moreover, we still use many aspects of Roman law today, checks, balances and vetoes are just some examples of these. Likewise, studying the past allows us to see which laws and previsions are outdated, meaning we move forward into a more progressive world. In my opinion, change can only occur upon reflection of the past, which is evident in many instances including but not limited to law. Many social changes have developed - these include it being less socially acceptable to smoke indoors due to health implications - and a willingness fight for equality has thankfully become more prevalent in my view. We recognise the struggle of the past to ensure a better future.  

The study of history locally is equally as important, understanding and comprehending the actions of the civilisations before us once again allows us to assess the causes of why our local community is the way it is today. We are blessed with such rich history in Bury St Edmunds alone, from Barons discussing the Magna Carta at the Cathedral in 1214, to the Dissolutions of the Monasteries by King Henry the VIII in 1539. The suppression of the monasteries alone had significant impact on English culture. It also caused for tremendous change in land reform, with a massive transfer of land from religious orders to English nobility. Inquiring about such events also gives a sense of identity, being able to physically see the consequences of our ancestors' actions thousands of years on.

Overall, the study of history is all about individualism, having the freedom to research, analyse and evaluate the causes, consequences and significance of past in your own words makes history personal. The twenty first century is all about this idea of personal individualism, history being one of the many tools available to access this. This is why history is significant; in the modern world, where we strive for progress and advancement, looking back is sometimes the only way to move forward.