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What Is History? Introducing History to Kids

Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in various contexts.

History is the story of humanity from the earliest times to the present day.

History is the story of humanity from the earliest times to the present day.

What Is History? For Kids

History is the story of the people on our planet. It is the human story. The story of everything that people have ever done since recognizable humans first evolved between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.

That's some story. Our story. Your story.

It is the story of changing human cultures, politics, lifestyles, beliefs and creativity.

Herodotus was a Greek and one of the first true historians of the Ancient World.

Herodotus was a Greek and one of the first true historians of the Ancient World.

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

- George Santayana

Why Is History Important?

Before studying something, it's always a good idea to consider why it is important.

One reason I think history is important is just that it is great fun and sometimes very exciting. It's like being a time detective, hunting through the records and the archaeological artefacts, looking for clues that might help build up a picture of what happened long ago.

Another very good reason to study history is that it is our story. By understanding our past and where we came from, we hope to better understand where we are now and even decide about what might happen in the future.

The way things are now is a consequence of the things that happened in the past. The way things will be tomorrow will be a consequence of the way things are now.

To understand all this, it is very important that we study history.

History is the richest of all stories that can be told as it is the story of all people, in all places, at all times. It is a beautiful story. It can be a sad and shocking story, too. But it is the most exciting story there is because we can decide what will happen in the next chapter!

Historians study both secondary and primary sources.

Historians study both secondary and primary sources.

How Do We Study History?

Well, as a lot of the human story has already been discovered, a good place to start is by reading history books and visiting museums.

History books are written by historians. Historians are the women and men who study history.

But when you read a history book written by a historian, how did the historian discover all the things that she writes about?

Historians do read other historians' history books! History books are called secondary sources. That means that the information in them is second-hand or has already been found out by someone else.

But professional historians also study primary sources. Primary sources are writings and artefacts that actually come from the people and the time that the historian wants to find out about.

"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Historians read diaries, accounts, tombstones, and even shopping lists; they look at remnants of clothes, tools, jewellery, and buildings left from the past.

From these clues, they build up a picture of how people lived and what they thought was important years ago.

What Do Historians Do?

Well, we know historians study history, and we know a bit about how, but what do historians actually do on a typical working day?

There's no doubt that the range of activities that a professional historian (someone who earns a living by studying and writing about history) is involved in can be very broad. Some even make shows for television and radio.

Next, we'll look at just what things a historian might get up to in a typical working day. But first, have you ever heard of the PBS show 'The History Detectives'? Watch this fascinating interview with one of the historians who work on that show, Dr. Gwendolyn Wright:

Job Description of a Historian

As we said before, historians can be involved in all kinds of different activities during a typical working day.

So in the table below, you can see a selection of the places a historian might go and the work they might do there. Some of it might surprise you!

Historians uncover clues from the past to find out how our ancestors lived.

Historians uncover clues from the past to find out how our ancestors lived.

Things Historians Do

Historians can be involved in a very wide variety of different activities. These activities they undertake in the course of their work can even involve travelling all over the world or make them into television celebrities!



To carry out research into secondary sources

Gain an understanding of what other historians have already done

Internet Search

To read blogs and news sites to make sure that they are up to date with the latest discoveries

To keep updated with the latest news and events in their field


To meet other historians and share information and ideas

To work collaboratively and keep a 'finger on the pulse' of current research.


To examine original artefacts and primary source material

Primary research can lead to new inights and discoveries.

Archaeological Site

To conduct, direct or examine new excavations.

Understand the significance of archaeological sites.

Meetings with government ministers and funding bodies.

To advocate on behalf of protected sites, educational facilities and future research funding.

To ensure that important historical artefacts and research projects are protected and funded.

School, College, University

To teach, lecture and tutor.

Ensuring that a new generation of historians are educated and enthused.

Her Desk

To write papers and books

To publish and share the results of research with others.

Research in libraries and museums is a very important part of an historian's work, but there is much more to it than that.

Research in libraries and museums is a very important part of an historian's work, but there is much more to it than that.

How Do You Become A Historian?

If you are interested in becoming a historian, then here is what you will need to do:

  • Do well at school, particularly in history, English, math and social science classes.
  • Study at University and achieve at least a Bachelor's degree in history. Ideally, you will go on to study for a Master's and then a research-based PhD.
  • Visit museums and historical/archaeological sites as often as you can and keep a notebook, photographs and other evidence of your interest.
  • Read history books!
  • Join your local Historical Society.

So it is important that you study hard to achieve your goals. It is also important to show an interest outside your academic studies and keep a portfolio of any activities and visits that you undertake.

Becoming a professional historian is difficult, but it can be a fascinating and rewarding career if you are passionate and determined.

Attending academic conferences and other meetings is another important aspect of an historian's work.

Attending academic conferences and other meetings is another important aspect of an historian's work.

What Skills Do Historians Need?

Aside from the academic achievements that we have looked at above, it takes a certain kind of person to make a really good historian.

"History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man."

- Shelley, English Poet.

Key Qualities

These are some of the qualities that you should have to be successful in this field:

  • An enquiring mind. You need to be the sort of person who is always asking, "Why?"
  • Patience and perseverance are very important skills for any historian - just as they are for detectives!
  • As you will often have to deal with people from all sections of society, good interpersonal skills are a must. You need to know how to listen and communicate well.
  • Excellent written language skills. Half your job is going to be finding things out. The other half is going to be writing about it in a way that other academics and the public can understand, so a good command of written English is very important.
  • A love of people and human stories. After all, that is the subject of your study. You need to be passionately interested (maybe even a little nosey!) in other people's lives.
  • The ability to see things afresh and 'think outside the box' as a lot of the time, in the face of new evidence that you discover, you may need to let go of some of what you and others thought before and re-think your understanding of history.

There are many other qualities - such as being well organized and a good timekeeper and so on - that you would need to be a good professional historian, but the ones listed above are likely the most important of them all.

A Last Word

I hope you have enjoyed finding out a bit more about what history is, how we study it and what historians get up to for a living!

I think history is very interesting and exciting - and it isn't just about dusty libraries and old bones.

And do you know what I think is one of the most exciting things about it? It's that whatever happens next in the course of our history - what story is written on the blank pages of tomorrow - is in our own hands.

The history of the future is whatever we do now.

© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

Do you think that studying history is important?

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 17, 2019:

Hi Perry, that's fine. Thank you for asking!

Perry Frimpong on November 16, 2019:

I am preparing a handbook for Children at the age of 6. I want your permission to make reference to the content of your article.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 29, 2018:

Thank you, yalambar! You are very kind. I'm glad you enjoyed this article about history. :)

yalambar sampang on March 27, 2018:

i am happy with you. you are doing great God bless you

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on October 08, 2017:

Hi Daniella,

Thanks for your comment! That's very true. And in the same way that no person would be who she is now without her personal history, no society or culture would be what it is now without its social and cultural history. :)

daniella on October 04, 2017:

history is very important if you did not have history, you would not be the person whom you are right now

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 27, 2017:

Hi. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you liked it. :)

3PIC tim on September 26, 2017:

Loves this article and im a kid (:

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 12, 2017:

Thank you, AJ. I'm glad you found it useful.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 12, 2017:

Thanks. I hope it gave you some interesting insights into the study of history and what it takes to be a historian.

AJ on September 12, 2017:

great article full of so much info amazing Definitely gave me more knowledge of history best article ever!!!:)

hi on September 11, 2017:

i like it

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 11, 2017:

Hi Basit,

Thanks for your comment. I hope it helps you with your history homework! :)

basit on September 07, 2017:

Ti is my home work for hositry .

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 25, 2017:

Hi Historylover345,

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you and your kids found the article useful and interesting! :)

Historylover345 on August 22, 2017:

Great article! Really helped me and my children out! They enjoyed this as well!!

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on June 06, 2017:

Thank you, Richard!

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on June 06, 2017:

Hi Kafka,

Thank you so much for your comment. I'm so happy this will help you with your class!

Bless you. :)

kafka on June 04, 2017:

thank you for the wonderful article.. ....tomorrow is my first day class ...since I am a history teacher I was looking for a article to say something on why kids should learn history. ..thanks again

Richard on June 01, 2017:

Yay very much important

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on April 28, 2017:

Thanks for your comment, Stella! That's very true. :)

Stellar on April 26, 2017:

Yes because you can see and learn new stuff

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on February 23, 2017:

Thank you!

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on February 23, 2017:

Thank you. You're right about Herodotus. That slipped through the editorial net. I shall get it fixed as soon as possible!

Vicky on February 23, 2017:

That's an amazing article. Just to say though Herodotus was Greek not Roman.

Jordan Moses on February 20, 2017:

good info

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 23, 2016:

Hi Nasyae!

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your lovely comment.

nasyae williams on September 12, 2016:

I love your story it was nice.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 07, 2014:

Hi Alun,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful contribution to this article.

I'm sorry that your school experience in relation to learning history was so poor. I don't suppose it is any consolation to know that your experience is - or certainly was - incredibly common. I'm glad to say, however, that in many schools history is now taught in a very different fashion to all of that memorization of the names and dates stuff.

Increasingly, students are encouraged to examine not just political and economic history, but social and cultural history as well - and to start by examining primary sources and actually 'doing' history for themselves.

Unfortunately, there is still a heck of a long way to go in getting the teaching of history right. In the UK there's a movement from the right wing government back to precisely the sort of teaching that you describe in your school days. And in North America, all sorts of nonsense is still drummed into kids - try finding anything other than a sugar-coated lie about the first Thanksgiving in an American textbook, for example. It's as if the Native People don't count.

Still, at least, once we're out of school we can educate ourselves - and there are more and more resources available to us via the internet and other media. Just so long as we keep our critical faculties up to scratch!

Many thanks again for your lovely comment.

Bless you :)


Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on December 07, 2014:

Hi. I would argue that as far as traditional subjects are concerned, English and Maths may be more important when it comes to getting by and surviving as individuals day to day. But hstory and also science are the subjects which children should study to become well-rounded adults aware of how the world works, and capable of judging the true significance of world events. Therefore, I can agree with all you say in the opening section about the importance of history.

I grew up in the age when school children only studied basic core subjects - maths, english, languages, history, geography, sciences etc. Of all these, history was the only one I gave up before the age of 16. The reason? I found it just a dreary collection of dates with no relevence to me. But today I find history possibly the most interesting subject of all. The reason? TV documentaries which have brought the subject alive, revealing historical figures both famous and ordinary as real people I can relate to. I trust that today in schools and colleges teachers manage to make history come alive for their students in a way in which it never did for me until I left school and discovered TV documentaries!

Now I just love visiting historic sites or reading about a historic event. I think your article is therefore excellent for its promotion of history as a subject. I hope a few who read will discover earlier in life a love of history which I only discovered long after leaving school. Best wishes, Alun

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 29, 2014:

Hi Anna!

Thanks for your comment. That's spot on!

History is the study of events that happened in the past. And you know, the further back into the past you go, the more exciting and difficult it is to figure out what was going on. Things that people made thousands of years ago maybe don't last or they didn't write things down.

For me, that is one of the things that makes the study of history so exciting - that just like a detective story there are all these clues but we have to work how they fit together.

Thanks again for commenting. Bless you :)

Anna on August 29, 2014:

Events that happened in the past

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 28, 2014:

Hi Eiddwen!

Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I'm very pleased that you found it interesting and useful.

Bless you :)

Eiddwen from Wales on January 28, 2014:

So glad I cam across this wonderful hub.

Voted up and looking forward to so many more by you.


Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 25, 2014:

Thanks Suzanne!

My own kids aren't confused on that score. They've studied the overwhelming evidence for evolution and they've studied comparative religion and mythology, too, in a broad historical context. So they are aware of the difference between cultural storytelling and evidence-based science. Being smart kids, they can tell which one is fantasy and which one is fact.

Glad you enjoyed the hub and thanks for your comment! :)

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on January 25, 2014:

One of the things my kids often get confused about is the story of evolution vs the story of Christ. I have explained that different people like to believe different things and they have accepted that. Myself, I believe we climbed out of the primeval swamp and eventually took to the trees etc.

Thanks for pointing out what historians actually do, it was most helpful. Voted useful!

Heather Baker from Florida on December 05, 2013:

You're welcome.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 05, 2013:

Hi Heather!

Thanks so much for that comment. I think that quite a few folk get some sense of history from good historical fiction. heather Graham I've never read but I understand that she goes to great lengths to do a lot of research before settling down to write. For many authors of Historical fiction, that is one of the pleasures, I imagine.

In fact, there you go, it's another possible career choice for an historian, to become a novelist.

Thanks for you lovely contribution. :)

Heather Baker from Florida on December 04, 2013:

I actually got into history at about twelve and it evolved into a love for the subject around fourteen when my grandmother found out I was reading romance novels (I know probably not too age appropriate at that point) which she then proceeded to inundate me with, and most of them were historical ones she'd read hundreds of times. It turns out we shared a love of authors, and Heather Graham's historical romances were my absolute favorite things to read for at least five years after. I still go back to those novels today and read them, most times for the taste of history that it gave me.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 03, 2013:

Hi torrilynn! I agree with you that the way in which we present history to kids is very important: we can either pique their curiosity and arouse their interest in studying history or we can render it incredibly dull and pointless. I hope this hub helps to do the former!

Bless. :)

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 03, 2013:

Hi LongTimeMother!

Thanks so much for your comment. I hope that this hub might eventually make a small difference in showing that history is exciting and interesting and can potentially lead to a fascinating and rewarding career.

Thanks again for reading. :)

torrilynn on December 03, 2013:

Thanks for the history lesson. I feel that more and more kids can become interested in history as long as you present it the right way. Great stuff. Voted up.

LongTimeMother from Australia on December 02, 2013:

I think it is wonderful to help children start identifying the options available to them as they study different topics. Great hub. Voted up ++.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 02, 2013:

Hi FlourishAnyway and thank you so much for your lovely comment!

I am passionate about history because I do genuinely not only enjoy it but think that it is very important. And I do agree with you that history has sadly been a subject not well taught in many schools.

Children not only need to know, they *deserve* to know, why they are being asked to study history - or any other subject for that matter.

Thanks so much. Really appreciated. :D

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 02, 2013:

I love the passion you show for history and particularly your explanations about being a time detective. That explanation really should resonate with kids, I bet. So often in schools we approach history as dates and names and wars and blah. There's so much more to it! I love the complexity, the interconnections, the ironies, and the human side. Kids need to know why they have to learn what they are learning. You provide these explanations. Bravo! Thanks for sharing your passion.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 30, 2013:

Hi wetnosedogs! Thank you. I love that comment. I hope it's true. And I ask myself - why can't that be true for ALL our kids, not just the few?

Thanks so much. Bless you. :)

wetnosedogs from Alabama on November 30, 2013:

Enjoyed this informative hub. A few lucky kids who know what they want in life and get guidance will be off to a wonderful adventure.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 29, 2013:

Hi Bill,

Thnaks so much for reading this and making the effort to comment. I somehow had missed it that you had been a history teacher - although it shows in your writing and your empathy. And your qualifications make your comment even more valuable.

Thanks again. Bless you :)


Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 29, 2013:

Thanks nicholet!

I'm happy you enjoyed reading this and very pleased you took the time to comment. Bless you :)

Nicholette Sbarro from New Jersey on November 29, 2013:

Great article. Full of useful information. Thanks for sharing

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 29, 2013:

I taught history for eighteen years so you are preaching to the choir on this one. :) I heard a saying once that "history never ends." I love that thought. :) Have a great weekend Joelle!