All human cultures tell stories about the past, deeds of ancestors, heroes, gods, or animals. Songs sacred to particular peoples were chanted and memorized long before there was any writing with which to record them. Their truth was authenticated by the very fact of their continued repetition. History which can be considered as an account that purports to be true of events and ways of thinking and feeling in some part of the human past stems from this archetypal human narrative activity. While sharing a common ancestry with myth, legend, epic poetry, and the novel, history has of course diverged from these forms. Its claim to truth is based in part on the fact that all the persons or events it describes really existed or occurred at some time in the past. Historians can say nothing about these persons or events that cannot be supported, or at least suggested, by some kind of documentary evidence. Such evidence customarily takes the form of something written, such as a letter, a law, an administrative record, or the account of some previous historian. In addition, historians sometimes create their own evidence by interviewing people.
In the 20th century, the scope of historical evidence was greatly expanded to include, inter alia, aerial photographs, clothes, motion pictures, and houses etc. Furthermore, all developed countries have their National Archives. This is in recognition of the simple fact that knowledge of the past is essential to society. What happens in the present, and what will happen in the future, is very much governed by what happened in the past. Without a thorough knowledge of past events and circumstances, we could not even attempt to grapple with these problems. Without knowledge of the past we would be without identity, we would be lost on an endless sea of time. However, it is obvious that knowledge of the past has not brought easy solutions to problems in, say, Nigeria, Mali, Zimbabwe, Palestine or even other parts of the world. Notwithstanding the fact that history is paramount in any society and in fact a necessary ingredient for its growth, but many practical facts staring us at the face have shown that people learn from history that they do not learn from history. Thus, I would like to support and defend the assertion that ‘history teaches us that history teaches nothing’. But before delving into this argumentative cum intellectual excursus, I would like to clarify the term ‘History’ and ‘Why people study history’
2.0 WHAT IS HISTORY?
Etymologically, the term ‘history’ is from the Greek word ‘ἱστορία’ - historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation". It was still in this Greek sense that Francis Bacon used the term in the late 16th century, when he wrote about "Natural History". For him, history is "the knowledge of objects determined by space and time". History is the study of the past, specifically how it relates to humans. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about these events. Scholars who write about history are called historians whereas the events occurring prior to written record were considered prehistory. By "prehistory", historians mean the recovery of knowledge of the past in an area where no written records exist, or where the writing of a culture is not understood. By studying painting, drawings, carvings, and other artefacts, some information can be recovered even in the absence of a written record. Since the 20th century, the study of prehistory is considered essential to avoid history's implicit exclusion of certain civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. In 1961, British historian E. H. Carr wrote; ‘the line of demarcation between prehistoric and historical times is crossed when people cease to live only in the present, and become...