Why study history? An examination of undergraduate students’ notions and perceptions about history

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Historical Encounters: A journal of historical consciousness, historical cultures, and history education

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History was once prized in public education but, over time, has slowly fallen to the fringes of the curriculum. Many institutions have struggled to solicit and maintain student interest in history majors and many students merely take “history” as a general education or liberal arts elective. The reasons explored here for why students should study history are myriad and include acquiring knowledge and critical thinking skills, developing citizenship, and providing “lessons” for the present. The literature on “Why Study History?” almost exclusively focuses on secondary education resulting in a gap in the literature exploring students’ attitudes and beliefs about the subject. This article examines a sample of 26 undergraduate students’ notions and perceptions about history through a survey questionnaire and open-ended questions. The most significant themes were “Lessons of History” and “History has Questionable Value.” The findings are discussed within the conceptual frameworks of McNeill (1985) and Stearns (1998). Recommendations for future research are also explored.