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Through a combination of exclusive articles written by leading scholars and eBook chapters exploring the nature and significance of history, this Featured Content is your way into tackling a critical question that is fundamental to the subject: why does history matter?

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What is History and Why Does it Matter?

In this article Beverley Southgate reflects on how, in order to say why history matters, we need to know what history is. From 5th-century BCE Greek historian Thucydides looking to provide a ‘true’ record of past events to the meaning and importance of history today, the article considers how definitions of history have been and are ever changing. For history itself has a history: over the centuries its nature has been perceived very variously; and in parallel with that, so too has understanding changed of its purposes – of why it might actually matter.

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Why Should Anyone Trust a Historian? Intellectual Honesty and the Purposes of History

Long before the professionalization of history, and as a part of the feudal privileges of a university, universities themselves and their constituent disciplines were supposed to be self-regulating. Then, with the professionalization of disciplines and the emergence of history as a distinct discipline, the responsibility for making one’s research and writing not only intelligible but also verifiable was placed upon the historian. The question of trust then looms large: why should the reader, professional or amateur, within or outside the profession, trust what the historian has written? How can the trust be created and maintained? This article sees Raphael Lutz contemplate this question, using the notion of ‘intellectual honesty’ as a yardstick, and what this all means for the purposes of history as a discipline.

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Philosophizing History

Philosophy of History: Twenty-First-Century Perspectives brings together an international cast of stellar contributors to offer a timely and comprehensive survey of recent developments in the philosophy of history that asks pressing questions about where the field is going in the 21st century. In this chapter, distinguished historian Allan Megill ponders the ‘affective dimension’ of history and the value of the ‘feeling’ aspect of people’s orientation to their pasts. Here he argues not to reduce history to feeling alone but rather to take account of both history’s affective and its thoughtful, reflective elements – vital, surely, to any rounded understanding of why history matters.

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History as a Concept

Leading philosopher of history Dmitri Nikulin probes the presuppositions behind the contemporary understanding of history that often remain implicit in The Concept of History. The book provides a critique of the modern understanding of history, which presents itself as universal and teleological, progressively moving forward to an end, and offers a distinct perspective on the subject. In this chapter, Nikulin considers the structures of history with his main presupposition being that history derives from a profound need on the part of humans to somehow preserve themselves against non-being. Why does history matter? Perhaps, in part, because we need it intrinsically.