It is a truth universally acknowledged that history will repeat itself. From statesmen such as Winston Churchill to philosophers like George Santayana, there seems to be a unanimous agreement on the foundations of our future being rooted in the past, and global recognition of the fact it will be impossible to progress as a society without first fully understanding the successes and mistakes of our predecessors. It should consequently be widely accepted that solutions to our current problems, which will in turn create optimism for the future, can be found by studying the past.
Despite the seemingly prevalent belief that members of this modern civilisation are faced with more serious and more pressing issues than ever before, I would argue that all our significant problems have been survived and even solved in past times. Global warming, arguably the modern issue with the most far-reaching consequences, is not a solely modern issue. The Earth has gone through climate cycles since far before humanity evolved, and they have never meant the end of life on our planet. While the existence of previous ice ages, or ‘glacials’, and of the subsequent ‘interglacials’ (Lindsey, 2020) does not in any way imply that climate change of the rate at which we are currently experiencing is natural, or even survivable, it does suggest that by studying the history of the environment we may be able to identify how the planet has recovered from natural climate cycles before and use these same principles in our solutions to modern, man-made climate change. This clearly demonstrates that using history as part of our long-term thinking is integral to the survival of our planet, the assurance of which will enable people to be hopeful for a future in which humanity can continue to thrive on Earth.
Another common thread throughout history is human nature. Although evolution has undoubtedly developed our intelligence, the fundamentals of humanity remain the same. Some behavioural patterns in modern interactions can be dated back to the beginning of human history and even seen in several intelligent animal species (Duignan & Rodriguez, 2016). Once again, by considering history we are able to identify similarities with the present and use those to shape our perceptions of the future. We can utilise history to recognise which traits make a good leader and which values made certain ancient civilisations successful, then strive to emulate these in our own society. Moreover, studying historical figures and identifying things we have in common can also foster optimism by proving to people that they are not alone; that others since the beginning of time have felt or thought or looked like them, and have been successful at whatever they chose to do. This encourages young people in particular to trust they can achieve their dreams and helps to cultivate hope for a future in which they will thrive.
There are undoubtedly substantial global challenges that our own and future generations will have to face, and hope is vital to our ability to meet them. While history may be the study of the past, it is invaluable in helping us achieve a better future, partially down to its tendency to repeat itself and our ability to use it to learn from our mistakes. This, in turn, will foster optimism as it gives us a starting point from which to build solutions to the modern problems that would diminish hope for the future, and encourages us to more strongly believe that tomorrow will be worth living in.
Lindsey, D.H.A.R. (2020) Hasn’t Earth warmed and cooled naturally throughout history?, NOAA Climate.gov. Available at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/hasnt-earth-warmed-and-cooled-naturally-throughout-history (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
Duignan, B. and Rodriguez, E. (2016) Human nature, Encyclopædia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/human-nature (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
History repeating (2019) College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences | Virginia Tech. Available at: https://liberalarts.vt.edu/magazine/2017/history-repeating.html#:~:text=“History%20Repeating”%20offers%20a%20range,analyze%20clues%20from%20the%20past. (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
Austen, J. (1994) ‘Chapter 1’, in Pride and prejudice. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, pp. 4–4. ‘it is a truth universally aknowledged’