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Why study history

LAURENCE REES: And the last question - Why do you think anyone should bother to study history in general and this period in particular?

SIR IAN KERSHAW: Well, if you just take a human analogy: we all have our own family histories and our own family backgrounds. Just imagine human beings without any memory, and the individual would be so massively impoverished through lack of memory – somebody as an amnesiac, you would imagine to be totally impoverished. As a nation, as a civilisation, as a people we are collectively impoverished if we have no history, because we have no idea where we’ve come from.

And then if you take something as absolutely crucial in the shaping of the modern world as the Second World War, then it stands to reason that we all have an awareness of how that war came about through the hyper-nationalisms that can produce such hatreds and lead to that type of thing, and of the nature of that war - and its genocidal nature. And also of what that war actually then meant for the development of, not just of Europe, a continent that was destroyed and then recovered like a phoenix from the ashes, but for the whole rest of the world in terms of America as a superpower, the Soviet Union as a superpower - the Cold War could not be understood without it. And therefore in all these ways history in general and the Second World War in particular are absolutely essential parts of any understanding of modern civilisation.