Antique Pillar Antiquity

History can inform the present and help us shape the future. History can mean what happened in the past, or the story about what happened in the past, and these two don’t necessarily agree. Historian’s goals were often to glorify a person or nation, more than to tell objectively what happened. History textbooks have sometimes been bound by political rules about not telling embarrassing stories about the past. Every historian has cultural influences and assumptions, even if they attempt to be inclusive and objective. These quotations on history come from a variety of perspectives, moods, and authors.

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Patriotism in the female sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honors and from offices, we cannot attach ourselves to the State or Government from having held a place of eminence. . . . Yet all history and every age exhibit instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex; which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.

— Abigail Adams

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.

— Abraham Lincoln

History teaches everything, even the future.

— Alphonse de Lamartine

All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rather they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.

— Andre Trocme

I’m really glad that our young people missed the Depression, and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew. Leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we would have to sacrifice, and these difficulties might last awhile. They didn’t tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose.

— Ann Richards, 1988 keynote address, Democratic National Convention

It is fair to assume that when women in the past have achieved even a second or third place in the ranks of genius they have shown far more native ability than men have needed to reach the same eminence. Not excused from the more general duties that constitute the cement of society, most women of talent have had but one hand free with which to work out their ideal conceptions.

— Anna Garlin Spencer

Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.

— Anne Sullivan

If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.

— Baruch Spinoza

All the lessons of history in four sentences:
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.
The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

— Charles A. Beard

Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to continue always a child. If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge

— Cicero

There is a spirit and a need and a man at the beginning of every great human advance. Every one of these must be right for that particular moment of history, or nothing happens.

— Coretta Scott King

Beyond all sciences, philosophies, theologies, and histories, a child’s relentless inquiry is truly all it takes to remind us that we don’t know as much as we think we know.

— Criss Jami, Killosophy

There is no life that does not contribute to history.

— Dorothy West

Skepticism has never founded empires, established principles, or changed the world’s heart. The great doers in history have always been people of faith.

— Edwin Hubbel Chapin

For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history’s terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could never have told me. Only history itself can convince you of such a truth. And once you’ve seen that truth – really seen it – you can’t look away.

— Elizabeth Kostova

Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.

— Fannie Lou Hamer

We cannot adopt the way of living that was satisfactory a hundred years ago. The world in which we live has changed, and we must change with it.

— Felix Adler

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

— George Bernard Shaw

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

— George Orwell, 1984

We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.

— Gerda Lerner

What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are ‘the lessons of history’? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past.

— Gerda Lerner

Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.

— Gerda Lerner

Evolution is what it is. The upper classes have always died out; it’s one of the most charming things about them.

— Germaine Greer

It is the soothing thing about history that it does repeat itself.

— Gertrude Stein

The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today.

— Harriet Beecher Stowe

If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

— Howard Zinn

I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you you must go to war for this or that reason — that history is a protective armor against being misled.

— Howard Zinn

People like Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Jack London and Upton Sinclair were wonderful writers who joined the movement against war and injustice, against capitalism and corporate power. That was a very exciting period in American history.

— Howard Zinn

Right time, right place, right people equals success.
Wrong time, wrong place, wrong people equals most of the real human history.

— Idries Shah, Reflections

History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.

— James Baldwin
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