What Is History? Introducing History to Kids

History Is the Human Story

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. | Source

What is History?

History is the story of people on the 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.

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

Herodotus - An Early Historian

Herodotus was a Roman and one of the first true historians of the Ancient World.
Herodotus was a Roman and one of the first true historians of the Ancient World. | Source

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

- George Santayana

Why is History Important?

Before you study something it's always a good idea to think about 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. | Source

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 historian's 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 and accounts and tombstones and even shopping lists; they look at remnants of clothes and tools and 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.

Understanding Primary and Secondary Sources

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 an 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 works on that show, Dr. Gwendolyn Wright:

Interview with Historian Gwendolyn Wright

Historian's Job Description

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

So in the table below, you can see a selection of the places an 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. | Source

Things Historians Do

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.
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!

Research is an Essential Part of an Historian's Work

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

How Do You Become An Historian?

If you are interested in becoming an 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.

It is not easy to become a professional historian but if you are passionate and determined it can be a fascinating and rewarding career.

Historians Attend Academic Conferences

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. | Source

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 really good historian.

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

- Shelley, English Poet.

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 general 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 the lives of other people.
  • 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 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.

History Poll

Do you think history is important?

  • Yes
  • No
See results without voting

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.

One Question Quiz

© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

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Do you think that studying history is important? 26 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

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!

nicholet profile image

nicholet 2 years ago from New Jersey

Great article. Full of useful information. Thanks for sharing

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

Thanks nicholet!

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

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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 :)


wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 2 years ago from Alabama

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.

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stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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. :)

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

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.

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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

LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 2 years ago from Australia

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

torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 2 years ago

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.

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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. :)

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stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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. :)

Heatherbaker profile image

Heatherbaker 2 years ago from Florida

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.

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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. :)

Heatherbaker profile image

Heatherbaker 2 years ago from Florida

You're welcome.

Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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!

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stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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! :)

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

So glad I cam across this wonderful hub.

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


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stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

Hi Eiddwen!

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

Bless you :)

Anna 2 years ago

Events that happened in the past

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stuff4kids 2 years ago Author

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 :)

Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 22 months ago from Essex, UK

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

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 22 months ago Author

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 :)


tristin smith 8 weeks ago

clash of clans

nasyae williams 5 weeks ago

I love your story it was nice.

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stuff4kids 4 weeks ago Author

Hi Nasyae!

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

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    Amanda Littlejohn (stuff4kids)395 Followers
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    Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of contexts.

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