Published Humanitas, Volume XVII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2004
National Humanities Institute
A character in Michael Crichton’s scientific mystery novel Timeline employs the term “temporal provincials” to describe people who believe only the present time matters. In the view of these people, he says, the past has no meaning, studying history is as pointless as learning Morse Code or how to drive a horse-drawn wagon. They don’t understand that everything we know and do today is derived from events and discoveries of the near and distant past. The distinguished historian Wilfred McClay has brilliantly exposed the error in such thinking. Writing in A Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Dr. McClay said: “We do history even when it is not particularly useful, simply because human beings are by their nature, remembering creatures. . . . History is merely the intensifying and systematizing of these basic human attributes.” Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity. In Reason Is Common Sense George Santayana wrote words that have been repeated hundreds of times: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Unfortunately, our world today is full of people with a knownothing attitude toward the past. Hence our governments and our leaders fail to comprehend that…
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