“Why Study Cultural History?”

As I was casting about for a topic for today’s blog post, I noticed on one of my bookshelves a textbook called The Western Humanities (5th Edition)  by Roy T. Matthews and F. DeWitt Platt.


I’m one of those people who hates getting rid of books, including the ones I haven’t cracked open in years or haven’t gotten around to reading in the first place. Even novels that I didn’t enjoy remain on my shelves. I believe the only reason for this — and it’s not a profound one — is that I like accumulating books. (Thankfully I am also frugal, so almost all of them were purchased secondhand.)

As for reference works in particular, there is something that appeals to me in the idea of being able to look something up in a book. I have an illustrated encyclopedia of animals, a dictionary of literary characters, a guide to one hundred operas, an encyclopedia of sports rules, and  probably a few others. Unfortunately, I have acquired the ubiquitous habit of turning to Google or Wikipedia whenever I have a pressing question. Nevertheless the reference books aren’t going anywhere.

This brings me to The Western Humanities. It’s just the type of book that I never open but can ‘t bear to get rid of. It’s an over-sized volume that covers Western civilization from the Mesopotamian civilizations to the postmodern era. It’s got hundreds of pages of photographs and timelines and maps. It encompasses art and literature and music and architecture. How could I ever part with it?

So my resolution is not to purge my bookshelves but to start another blog series. I’ll finally put the book to good use by dipping into it and sharing the intriguing things that I learn.


“Why Study Cultural History?”

Today I want to begin with the introduction of the textbook, in which the authors give several reasons that studying cultural history is essential for the well-educated person.

Those who fail to study history…

  1. …are “subject to passing fads and outlandish ideas.”

2. …are easily misled into believing that the events of today are unique or even that they are superior to everything that has gone before.

3. …may think the contemporary world will last forever.

Those who do study cultural history…

1. …understand that art and literature that has stood the test of time is relevant to every age.

2.  …have a clearer view of themselves and their era.

3. …are not limited by present circumstances but can draw inspiration from the past.

4. …know that their own culture has meaning that derives from its historical context.

Do you agree with these reasons? What would you add to the lists? And what topic or movement or era from Western civilization would you like me to blog about?

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