Some Ideas about Teaching



History IS Important!


History is under threat.   In many schools Key Stage 3 the impact of SATs, specialist status and PE-for-a-healthy-lifestyle is driving History down to one lesson a week within a Humanities department.   The current emphasis on vocational education and specialised diplomas threatens to do away with traditional ‘academic’ subjects at GCSE.   I know some History teachers who believe that in 20 years time, History will be a 'dead' subject like Latin and Greek.   Perhaps that’s going a bit far, but there is no doubt that we will need to do something if we are to preserve History as a major timetable force.


But do what?   When we talked to the pupils they all said that History was enjoyable.   But few reckoned it IMPORTANT.   When it came to a toss-up between history and MFL, or Business Studies, or Engineering, History ALWAYS lost.   And, as schools become less about education and more about skills, this is a worrying development.


To combat this, the Department decided that it needed to make pupils aware of the importance of History   We assembled a list of sayings by prominent people, past and present, who believed that History was important.   In addition, I wrote a dreadful piece of doggerel called ‘a HISTORY poem’, which we displayed in every classroom during the week of Poetry Day.   It caused considerable comment (not least because it was so excruciating).  


Having done the work, we wondered if other teachers might like to use the idea.   For which reason, please find below the list of quotes we assembled, to use as you wish.   Almost any word processor package will allow you to print them out, large, in an attractive font, on a sheet of paper.   In each History room, every fortnight, stick a new saying on the classroom door.   As old ones are taken down, put them on the wall above the whiteboard.   Pupils DO notice them.   Some of the sayings cause comment – particularly, ‘A page of history is worth a book of mathematics’.   Others come in useful during lessons – for instance, ‘God cannot change the past, but historians can’.


Pupils need to understand that History is not just enjoyable, it is important.   These quotes may help you convince them!   They are an attempt at a continuous drip-feed, reminding them and regularly reinforcing the idea that History is essential.


Will it save History?   Who knows, but it’s a bit a fun.






The Usefulness of History


Whoever neglects learning in his youth loses the Past, and is dead to the Future.

                Euripides, a Greek playwright.


The study of History is the beginning of wisdom.

                Jean Bodin, a French economist (1530–1596).


Histories make men wise.

                Francis Bacon (1561–1626), an English lawyer, politician and writer.


If people could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!

                Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1772–1834), a British poet.


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

                George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905). Santayana was an American philosopher.


We need to study the whole of History, not to fall back into it, but to see if we can escape from it.

                José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), a Spanish philosopher.


History repeats itself because nobody listens.

                Laurence Peter, a Professor of Education at the University of California.


History teaches us tolerance for human shortcomings and imperfections.

                Lewis F Powell, an American writer.


I think it is vitally important to study History. If we are going to lead Britain safely into the future, it is essential that we understand our country’s historical roots. If we can learn the lessons of the past, we will be able to avoid making mistakes in the future.

                Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party, speaking to Sedgefield Borough Councillors (1996)



History is YOU


To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain always a child.

                Cicero, a Roman Speaker.


There is a history in all men's lives.

                William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Britain's most famous playwright.


What is all knowledge except recorded experience, and a product of history?

                Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), a Scottish historian.


A man who does not respect his ancestors is worse than a wild animal.

                An American Indian saying.


Man is a history-making creature, who can neither repeat his past, nor leave it behind.

                WH Auden (1907–1973), a British poet.


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

                F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925). Fitzgerald was an American novelist.


We are the best informed people on earth as to the events of the last 24 hours; we are not the best informed as to the events of the last 60 centuries.

                Will Durant, a modern American thinker.


If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of what he knows about his world, and tell it to his children.

                Will Durant, a modern American thinker.



What is History?


What's past is prologue.

                William Shakespeare, The Tempest. Shakespeare was Britain’s most famous playwright.


History is the discovering of the principles of human nature

                David Hume (1711–1776), a British philosopher.


History is a poem written by Time upon the memories of man.

                Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English poet (1792–1822).


History is the ship carrying living memories to the future.

                Stephen Spender, an English poet and writer (1909–    ).


The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

                LP Hartley, The Go-between (1953). Hartley was an English novelist.


History is the record of everything that has ever happened to anyone, anywhere. If you are not interested in history, there is something wrong with you!

                John D. Clare (1952–    ), a British teacher and children's writer.



History is better than other subjects


History is philosophy, teaching by examples.

                Viscount Bolingbroke, a British politician (1678–1751).


A page of history is worth a book of mathematics.

                Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American journalist (1809–1864).


History is past politics, and politics is present history.

                EA Freeman (1823–1892), a British historian.


History is the science of people.

                José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), a Spanish philosopher.



The Power of the Historian


If history records good things about good people, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records the evil of wicked people, the godly listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and bad, and to do what he knows to be good and pleasing to God.

                The Venerable Bede (673–735), a monk and the first British historian.


A historian is a prophet in reverse.

                Friedrich von Schlegel, Athenaeum. Schlegel (1772–1829) was a German writer.


Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens.

                Victorian saying


God cannot change the past, but historians can.

                Samuel Butler, Erewhon Revisited (1902).


Who controls the Past controls the future.

                A Party slogan in George Orwell, 1984 (1948). Orwell was a British writer.


History makes some amends for the shortness of human life.

                Philip Skelton, an American writer.


and finally...



A  History  poem by John D Clare


If you like a thrilling mystery,

          you will find it here in History.

Murders, sex and drug addiction:

          historical truth out-fictions fiction!

The foulest deeds and blackest crimes

          usually come from ancient times,

Yet you'll find the greatest lovers tucked

          between the covers of a history book.


The most exciting works of poetry

          date from times of ancient History.

And in the past is where you’ll start

          if you want to find a work of Art.

Food and fashion, jobs and wages

          can all be studied in previous ages

And often they seem – though I don't know how –

          so much more interesting then than now.


Are you religious? You're not odd:

          back then they ALL believed in God,

So it's here in History you'll find RE

          AND Physics, and Tech, and CDT.

Gravity, the atom, flight and friction:

          this is the ORIGINAL science fiction,

For in Science, as you know,

          their principles were discovered long ago.


All that's been since time began

          lies bare before the historian:

Every story ever told,

          even your youth when you get old –

Everything that exists today

          has roots which stem from yesterday.

And all that is, is destined to be

          one day a part of History.


So if educated you would be:

GET UP-TO-DATE!            



Adapted from an article written for Teaching History, July 1997




To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (1997/2006), 'History IS Important',  at Greenfield History Site (