History

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History repeats itself.

History is the lore of human behavior through time. When used as the name of a field of study, history refers to the study and interpretation of past humans, families and societies as preserved primarily through written sources.

Quotes[edit]

Alphabetized by author
History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks. ~ Will Durant
History does not belong to us, we belong to it. ~ Hans-Georg Gadamer
History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time. ~ Terry Pratchett
It goes against the grain for me to do what so often happens, to speak inhumanly about the great as if a few millennia were an immense distance. I prefer to speak humanly about it, as if it happened yesterday, and let only the greatness itself be the distance. ~ Søren Kierkegaard
The history of the world has been one not of conquest, as supposed; it has been one of ennui. ~ Helen Westley
  • History repeats itself.
    • Anonymous proverb; popularized since the mid-1800s; already considered clichéd by 1865. "The most solemn humbug which does duty as a profound historical reflection is, that history repeats itself." Harper's, volume 30, p. 124, 1865
    • Widely attributed to various famous authors, who expressed similar sentiments – see Marx and Hegel quotes below.
    • An early attested form is "history repeats itself never" (reversing it), 1854, William Howitt The history of magic, Volume 2, by Joseph Ennemoser, translation William Howitt, 1854, p. 86
  • The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? (Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.) Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.
  • Take one of Voltaire's swift shining shafts of wit: "History is after all only a pack of tricks we play on the dead." Ah, yes, how true it is, we say; and we are astonished that Voltaire could have been so profound. Then we realize that he did not really mean it. To him it was a witticism intended to brand dishonest historians, whereas we perceive that it formulated, in the neatest possible way, a profound truth — the truth that all historical writing, even the most honest, is unconsciously subjective, since every age is bound, in spite of itself, to make the dead perform whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.
    • Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932), Ch. II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971, pp. 43–4.
  • Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I know people who can't even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view.
  • History gives us a kind of chart, and we dare not surrender even a small rushlight in the darkness. The hasty reformer who does not remember the past will find himself condemned to repeat it.
    • John Buchan, general introduction to The Nations of Today, a series of popular histories published in 1923–1924 under Buchan's editorship. Each work contained Buchan's introduction. Reported in Great Britain (1923), vol. 1, p. 12.
  • History is on every occasion the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.
    • Jacob Burckhardt, Judgements on History and Historians (1929), Section 84: Introduction to the History of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
  • History, a distillation of rumor.
    • Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, A History (1837), Part I, Book VII, Chapter V.
  • Happy the people whose annals are tiresome.
    • Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, A History (1837), Part I, Book II, Chapter I.
  • "Woe to the vanquished" (Vae victis) in history as on the battle-field.
    • Emanuele Celesia, The Conspiracy of Gianluigi Fieschi: or, Genoa in the Sixteenth Century. (1866), p.xxiv
  • Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
    • Winston Churchill, speech, House of Commons (May 2, 1935); in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 (1974), vol. 6, p. 5592. Quoted by Senator John Tower in an address delivered before the American Defense Preparedness Association (April 14, 1983); Congressional Record (April 20, 1983), vol. 129, p. S4989 (daily edition).
  • Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
    • Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.
      • Cicero, M. Tulli Ciceronis Orator Ad M. Brutum (46 B.C.).
  • Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.
    • Will Durant, as quoted in "The Gentle Philosopher" (2006) by John Little at Will Durant Foundation.
  • We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.
  • When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me, when a truth that fired the soul of St. John, fires mine, time is no more.
  • I don't know much about history, and I wouldn't give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today.
    • Henry Ford, interview in Chicago Tribune (25 May 1916).
  • History does not belong to us, we belong to it.
  • What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.
  • Today's banalities apparently gain in profundity if one states that the wisdom of the past, for all its virtues, belongs to the past. The arrogance of those who come later preens itself with the notion that the past is dead and gone. ... The modern mind can no longer think thought, only can locate it in time and space. The activity of thinking decays to the passivity of classifying.
  • It goes against the grain for me to do what so often happens, to speak inhumanly about the great as if a few millennia were an immense distance. I prefer to speak humanly about it, as if it happened yesterday, and let only the greatness itself be the distance.
  • "...Jesus told us this a long time ago, and I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command."
  • What is the use trying to describe the flowing of a river at any one moment, and then at the next moment, and then at the next, and the next, and the next? You wear out. You say: There is a great river, and it flows through this land, and we have named it History.
    • Ursula K. Le Guin, "A Man of the People", in Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995), p. 108.
  • What has once happened, will invariably happen again, when the same circumstances which combined to produce it, shall again combine in the same way.
    • Abraham Lincoln, speech on the sub-Treasury, in the hall of the House of Representatives, Springfield, Illinois (December 26, 1839); in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 1, p. 165.
  • Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
    • Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" (1852), part 1, in On Revolution (vol. 1 of The Karl Marx Library), ed. and trans. Saul K. Padover, p. 245 (1971).
    • See Hegel quote, above.
  • History admits no rules, only outcomes. What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts. What precipitates acts? Belief.
  • Just as geographers, O Sossius Senecio, crowd on to the outer edges of their maps the parts of the earth which elude their knowledge, with explanatory notes that "What lies beyond is sandy desert without water and full of wild beasts," or "blind marsh," or "Scythian cold," or "frozen sea," so in the writing of my Parallel Lives, now that I have traversed those periods of time which are accessible to probable reasoning and which afford basis for a history dealing with facts, I might well say of the earlier periods: "What lies beyond is full of marvels and unreality, a land of poets and fabulists, of doubt and obscurity.
  • The past is just one long, smelly error until we get to the car, computer and iPod.
  • History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.
  • "A land without ruins is a land without memories—a land without memories is a land without history".
    • Abram Joseph Ryan, "A Land Without Ruins", Preface quoting an unnamed source. Edd Winfield Parks, Southern Poets (1936), p. 165.
  • Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
  • History shows that there are no invincible armies and that there never have been.
    • Joseph Stalin, Radio Address "Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy!" (3 July 1941).
  • Serious affairs and history are carefully laid snares for the uninformed.
    • Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, Game III, Sequence: “A Game” (1999).
  • Creators of history always play with our impotence and our ignorance.
    • Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, Game III, Sequence: “A Game” (1999).
  • He did not waste time in a vain search for a place in history.
    • Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun, “Socrates,” Sequence: “A Stone and a Word” (1999).
  • History will be erased in the universal purgatory.
  • History is written by the victors, but it's victims who write the memoirs.
    • Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) : Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (2008), p. 197.
  • History is a big word..........History is not the sort of animal you can domesticate.
  • History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
  • The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
  • Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it's gossip with some point to it. That's why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
    • Gore Vidal, interview in: Butt, Nr. 20, Special Summer 2007, p. 63.
  • It is true that numerous instances are not always necessary to establish a law, provided the essential and relevant circumstances can easily be disentangled. But, in history, so many circumstances of a small and accidental nature are relevant, that no broad and simple uniformities are possible. Where our main endeavour is to discover general laws, we regard these as intrinsically more valuable than any of the facts which they inter-connect. In astronomy, the law of gravitation is plainly better worth knowing than the position of a particular planet on a particular night, or even on every night throughout a year. There are in the law a splendour and simplicity and sense of mastery which illuminate a mass of otherwise uninteresting details... But in history the matter is far otherwise... Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.
  • The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death's hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. ...On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.
  • Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
    • H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (1921), vol. 2, chapter 41, p. 594.
  • The history of the world has been one not of conquest, as supposed; it has been one of ennui.
    • Helen Westley, as quoted in "The Confessions of Helen Westley" by Djuna Barnes in New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine (23 September 1917).
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
    • Oscar Wilde "The True Function and Value of Criticism." The Nineteenth Century XXVII (July-December 1890): 137.
  • It is always a part of the misfortunes of the vanquished that their portraits are painted and their history written by the victors.
  • If you don't know history, it's as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday, then any leader can tell you anything.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 368-69.
  • Happy is the nation without a history.
    • Cesare Beccaria, Trattato dei Delitti e delle Pene (Treatise of Crimes and of Punishment). Introduction.
  • History is a pageant, not a philosophy.
  • Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise, and is gifted with an eye and a soul.
    • Thomas Carlyle, Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, Introduction, Chapter I.
  • History is the essence of innumerable Biographies.
  • In a certain sense all men are historians.
  • History, as it lies at the root of all science, is also the first distinct product of man's spiritual nature; his earliest expression of what can be called Thought.
  • All history … is an inarticulate Bible.
  • All history is a Bible—a thing stated in words by me more than once.
  • Happy the People whose Annals are blank in History-Books.
  • Que voulez-vous de plus? Il a inventé l'histoire.
    • What more would you have? He has invented history.
    • Madame Du Deffand of Voltaire, who was accused by critics of lack of invention. See Fourier, L'Esprit dans Histoire, p. 141.
  • The contact with manners then is education; and this Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples.
    • Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ars Rhetorica, XI. 2, p. 212. (Tauchnitz Ed.) See Thucydides, Works, I. 22.
  • Assassination has never changed the history of the world.
  • The reign of Antoninus is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history, which is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
    • Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), Chapter III.
  • And read their history in a nation's eyes.
    • Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard, Stanza 16.
  • The long historian of my country's woes.
    • Homer, The Odyssey, Book III, line 142. Pope's translation.
  • Happy the people whose annals are tiresome.
  • [History] hath triumphed over Time, which besides it, nothing but Eternity hath triumphed over.
  • In a word, we may gather out of history a policy no less wise than eternal; by the comparison and application of other men's forepassed miseries with our own like errors and ill deservings.
  • Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.
  • Der Historiker ist ein rückwärts gekehrter Prophet.
    • The historian is a prophet looking backwards.
    • Schlegel—Athenæum. Berlin. I. 2. 20.
  • Es giebt keine Selbstkenntniss als die historische. Niemand weiss was er ist, wer nicht weiss was seine Genossen sind.
    • There is no self-knowledge except historical self-knowledge. No one knows what he is if he doesn’t know what his contemporaries are.
      • Friedrich Schlegel, “Ideas,” Lucinde and the Fragments, p. Firchow, trans. (1991), § 139.
  • Præcipium munus annalium reor, ne virtutes sileantur, utque pravis dictis, factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit.
    • The principal office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), III. 65.
  • L'histoire n'est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.
    • History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes.
    • Voltaire, L'Ingénu, X.
  • Oh do not read history, for that I know must be false.
    • Robert Walpole, I, Walpoliana, No. CXLI. Also in Advertisement to Letters to Horace Mann.
  • Those old credulities, to nature dear,
    Shall they no longer bloom upon the stock
    Of History.

"history repeats itself; thats all you need to know about business" Laura McCormick Today Show interview 2015.


Misattributed[edit]

  • History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
    • This is very often attributed to Mark Twain, but is not found in his works. The earliest publication yet located is a verse which might involve a deliberate invocation of poetic license in John Robert Colombo's poem, "A Said Poem", published in Neo Poems (1970), which reads: " 'History never repeats itself but it rhymes,' said Mark Twain".
  • History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
    • Winston Churchill
    • Actual quote is:
    • For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (January 23, 1948); Cited in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), ed. Fred R. Shapiro, Yale University Press, p. 154 ISBN 0300107986

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