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History repeats itself. ~ Anonymous
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time; ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If we don't care about our past we can't have very much hope for our future. ~ Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

History (from Greek, historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past, particularly how it relates to humans. It is an umbrella term that relates to past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of information about these events. Scholars who write about history are called historians. Events occurring prior to written record are considered prehistory.

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  • The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great 'continents'. Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of Mathematics and the continent of Physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of History.
  • 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
  • History is about the past. Yet it exists only in the present – the moment of its creation as history provides us with a narrative constructed after the events with which it is concerned. The narrative must then relate to the moment of its creation as much as its historical subject. History presents an historian with the task of producing a dialogue between the past and the present. But as these temporal co-ordinates cannot be fixed, history becomes a continuous interaction between the historian and the past. As such, history can be seen as a process of evaluation whereby the past is always coloured by the intellectual fashions and philosophical concerns of the present. This shifting perspective on the past is matched by the fluid status of the past itself.
    • Dana Arnold, Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
  • The recognition of the role and importance of subjectivity in the construction of histories does, by implication, negate the possibility for objectivity in the writing of history. But there will always be historical narrative and, consequently, a narrative voice, be it hidden in the syntactical structure of the writing by, for instance, the absence of first person or the use of simple past tense. But this is a sleight of hand which gives the reader a sense of immediate contact with the past without the presence of an interlocutor. This apparently ‘unmediated’ contact gives history a kind of privileged status of objective knowledge
    • Dana Arnold Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
  • Historical reality is then a 'referential illusion', in which we try to grasp the reality (the referent of language) that we believe lies beyond the barrier of the linguistic construction of its narratives. In this way history becomes a Myth or an ideology as it purports to be reality. Indeed, storytelling is often seen as one of the most important functions of writing histories and fundamental to the nature of the discipline.
    • Dana Arnold, Reading Architectural History (2002), Ch. 1 : Reading the past : What is architectural history?
  • Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind.
  • Political history is far too criminal and pathological to be a fit subject of study for the young. Children should acquire their heroes and villains from fiction.
  • All things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle.


  • History is of two kinds—there is the official history taught in schools, a lying compilation ad usum delphini; and there is the secret history which deals with the real causes of events—a scandalous chronicle.
  • Journalism is the first rough draft of history.
  • Originally stated in slightly different forms “News/The press [is the] … first rough draft of history”, this form dates at least to the 1940s, and was most likely popularized by Alan Barth, as an editorial writer for the Washington Post in the 1940s. The sentiment appears several times in the editorial pages of the Post in that era, with the earliest citation from Barth being 1943:[1]
News is only the first rough draft of history.
  • This quote is generally incorrectly credited to Philip L. Graham, in an address to Newsweek correspondents in London (1963):[1][2]
  • 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.
  • Mrs. Lintott: Now. How do you define history, Mr. Rudge?
    Rudge: Can I speak freely, Miss? Without being hit?
    Mrs. Lintott: I will protect you.
    Rudge: How do I define history? It's just one fucking thing after another.
  • History must not be written with bias, and both sides must be given, even if there is only one side.
  • HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
  • With all regimes, there is what might be called an official interpretation of the past that makes it appear defective or just a step on the way to the present regime.
  • Always the victor writes the history of the vanquished. He who beats distorts the faces of the beaten. The weaker depart from this world and the lies remain.
  • 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 does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, 'Can't you remember anything I told you?' and lets fly with a club.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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.).
  • Isn't history ultimately the result of our fear of boredom?
    • Emil Cioran, Histoire et utopie ("History and Utopia") (1960)
  • I turn to the past to learn its story without any preconceived opinion what that story may be. I do not assume that one period or one line of study is more instructive than another, but I am ready to recognise the real identity of man's aspiration at all times. Some episodes in history are regarded as profoundly modern; others are dismissed contemptuously as concerned with trifles. In some ages there are great heroes, in others the actors are sunk in indolence and sloth. For my own part I do not recognise this great distinction.
  • Those who cannot forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.
  • When we say, “That’s history,” it’s a pejorative. Well, the rest of the world takes history pretty seriously.
  • While we read history we make history... Every great crisis of human history is a pass of Thermopylae, and there is always a Leonidas and his three hundred to die in it, if they can not conquer.


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
  • It is easy to argue persuasively the truism that the lessons of history are best derived from what actually happened, rather than from what nearly happened. It should be added, however, that what happened becomes more fully comprehensible in the light of the contending forces that existed at moments of decision. Understanding of the total historical setting is bound to contribute to a clearer view of the actual course of affairs.
  • Assassination has never changed the history of the world.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, Addressing the House of Commons after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1 May 1865).
  • We can only understand the present by continually referring to and studying the past; when any one of the intricate phenomena of our daily life puzzles us; when there arises religious problems, political problems, race problems, we must always remember that while their solution lies in the present, their cause and their explanation lie in the past.
    • W. E. B. DuBois, “The Beginnings of Slavery,” Voice of the Negro, vol. 2 (1905), p. 104, as cited in James B. Stewart, “The Field and Function of Black Studies,” in The African American Studies Reader, edited by Nathaniel Norment, Jr. (Carolina Academic Press: 2007), p. 45.
  • The difference of development, North and South, is explained as a sort of working out of cosmic social and economic law. ... In this sweeping mechanistic interpretation, there is no room for the real plot of the story, for the clear mistake and guilt of building a new slavery of the working class in the midst of a fateful experiment in democracy.
    • W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935), pp. 714-715
  • 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.
  • LOVE one another ... my final lesson of history, ... is the same as that of Jesus. . . . just try it. Love is the most practical thing in the world.
    • Will Durant, cited in Love—The “Surpassing Way”, The Watchtower magazine, 4/15, 1980.
      Note: A 92-year-old historian summed up his long study of human events by giving that short piece of advice. When asked, at the age of 92, if he could summarize the lessons of history into a single sentence. As quoted in "Durants on History from the Ages, with Love," by Pam Proctor, Parade (6 August 1978) p. 12. Durant is quoting The Gospel of John from Gospel of John 13:34, here, and might also be quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti: "Love is the most practical thing in the world. To love, to be kind, not to be greedy, not to be ambitious, not to be influenced by people but to think for yourself — these are all very practical things, and they will bring about a practical, happy society."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • History is an endless repetition of the wrong way of living.


  • History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.
    • Abba Eban, Speech in London (16 December 1970); as quoted in The Times [London] (17 December 1970) and in Great Jewish Quotations (1996) by Alfred J. Kolatch, p. 115.
  • History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must acquire proficiency in defense and display stamina in purpose. We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.


Good history is a good foundation for a better present and future. ~ John Hope Franklin
  • Le bon historien n'est d'aucun temps ni d'aucun pays: quoiqu'il aime sa patrie, il ne la flatte jamais en rien.
  • History, however, is not a linear narrative of progress. Rights may be won and taken away; gains are never complete or uncontested, and popular movements generate their own countervailing pressures.
  • 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. ~ Hans-Georg Gadamer
  • History does not belong to us, we belong to it.
  • There are moments in history when brooding tragedy and its dark shadows can be lightened by recalling great moments of the past.
  • History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable.
  • The great Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the first step a tyrant takes toward enslaving a people is to steal their history, for in that case, no one has anything from the past with which to compare the present, and any horror can be normalized. ... It was once said, as a commercial joke, that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. The same is true in this case, but not as a joke: It’s not nice to fool with history.


  • 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.
  • It is not the neutrals or the lukewarm who make history.


  • What we know of the past is mostly not worth knowing. What is worth knowing is mostly uncertain. Events in the past may roughly be divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter.
    • Dean Inge, Assessments and Anticipations, "Prognostications" (1929)


  • 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 takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
    • Henry James, Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ch. I: The Early Years (1879).
  • "History," Stephen said, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."


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
  • 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."
  • The history books, which had almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, only served to intensify the Negroes' sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy. All too many Negroes and whites are unaware of the fact that the first American to shed blood in the revolution which freed this country from British oppression was a black seaman named Crispus Attucks. Negroes and whites are almost totally oblivious of the fact that it was a Negro physician, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful operation on the heart in America. Another Negro physician, Dr. Charles Drew, was largely responsible for developing the method of separating blood plasma and storing it on a large scale, a process that saved thousands of lives in World War II and has made possible many of the important advances in postwar medicine. History books have virtually overlooked the many Negro scientists and inventors who have enriched American life. Although a few refer to George Washington Carver, whose research in agricultural products helped to revive the economy of the South when the throne of King Cotton began to totter, they ignore the contribution of Norbert Rillieuz, whose invention of an evaporating pan revolutionized the process of sugar refining. How many people know that multimillion-dollar United Shoe Machinery Company developed from the shoe-lasting machine invented in the last century by a Negro from Dutch Guiana, Jan Matzelinger; or that Granville T. Woods, an expert in electric motors, whose many patents speeded the growth and improvement of the railroads at the beginning of this century, was a Negro?
    Even the Negroes' contribution to the music of America is sometimes overlooked in astonishing ways. In 1965 my oldest son and daughter entered an integrated school in Atlanta. A few months later my wife and I were invited to attend a program entitled "Music that has made America great." As the evening unfolded, we listened to the folk songs and melodies of the various immigrant groups. We were certain that the program would end with the most original of all American music, the Negro spiritual. But we were mistaken. Instead, all the students, including our children, ended the program by singing "Dixie".
    • Martin Luther King Jr., as quoted in Carson, Clayborne. 2001. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Grand Central Publishing. Cap: Black Power.
  • Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter if they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, "he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night." But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over, it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.


I started to think why people feel comfortable disrespecting us in a way that’s just not normal or natural. And I started to think that it's because our contributions aren't in history textbooks. ~ John Leguizamo
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
Time travel dramas are becoming a hot theme for television and films. But the content and exaggerated performance style are questionable.
Many stories are totally made up and are made to strain for an effect of novelty. Producers and writers are treating serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore. ~ Li Jingsheng
  • We hope, plan, execute; will it be vain?
    Or will the future be the past again?
  • History hath but few pages—soon is told
    Man’s ordinary life,
    Labour, and care, and strife,
    Make up the constant chronicle of old.
  • History is nothing whatever but a record of what living persons have done in the past.
  • 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 helps us recognize the mistakes that we’ve made and the dark corners of the human spirit that we need to guard against. ~ Barack Obama
[I]f kids are taught an incomplete history, they'll either never get the full story, or when they do, they don't have the framework to understand how the pieces fit together. ~ John Oliver
  • The great historian John Hope Franklin, who helped to get this museum started, once said, “Good history is a good foundation for a better present and future.” He understood the best history doesn’t just sit behind a glass case; it helps us to understand what’s outside the case. The best history helps us recognize the mistakes that we’ve made and the dark corners of the human spirit that we need to guard against. And, yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable, and shake us out of familiar narratives. But it is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn and grow and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect.
  • Kids can understand that things can be racist and also other things. The Constitution can be revolutionary, and also racist. Movies can be romantic and also racist. Children's books can be charming, and also racist. Broadcasters can be incredibly successful and also racist. And if kids are taught an incomplete history, they'll either never get the full story, or when they do, they don't have the framework to understand how the pieces fit together.
  • History, when taught well, shows us how to improve the world. But history when taught poorly falsely claims there is nothing to improve…
  • Man is no thing, but a drama... Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is... history.
  • Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible... If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'...
  • The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?... To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself... That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.


History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time. ~ Terry Pratchett
Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web. ~ Frederick Pollock
  • It is impossible to write ancient history because we do not have enough sources, and impossible to write modern history because we have far too many.
  • 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.
  • This moment
    I am keener on the stories of valour
    washed away by this year's monsoon floods
    than the abstract shapes
    glued to myths, history and stories.
  • Had previous chroniclers neglected to speak in praise of History in general, it might perhaps have been necessary for me to recommend everyone to choose for study and welcome such treatises as the present, since men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past. But all historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others. Evidently therefore no one, and least of all myself, would think it his duty at this day to repeat what has been so well and so often said. For the very element of unexpectedness in the events I have chosen as my theme will be sufficient to challenge and incite everyone, young and old alike, to peruse my systematic history. For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government — a thing unique in history? Or who again is there so passionately devoted to other spectacles or studies as to regard anything as of greater moment than the acquisition of this knowledge?
  • There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent conception of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzlement or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as heroes.
    • Variant: There is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world.
    • Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol 2, Ch. 25 "Has History any Meaning?" (1945)
  • History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.


  • [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.
  • The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.
  • I know that all things pass away but history. History never dies. It is what defines us as a civilization, and we live out our collective histories every day, in ways both good and evil... History dies hard.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
  • Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Narrative is taken to mean the organization of material in a chronologically sequential order and the focussing of the content into a single coherent story, albeit with sub-plots. The two essential ways in which narrative history differs from structural history is that its arrangement is descriptive rather than analytical and that its central focus is on man not circumstances. It therefore deals with the peculiar and the specific, rather than the collective and statistical. Narrative is a mode of historical writing, but it is a mode which also affects and is affected by content and method.
    • Lawrence Stone, ‘The Revival of Narrative: Reflections on a new old history’ in The Past and Present Revisited,London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987 p. 74.


  • History is a big word..........History is not the sort of animal you can domesticate.
  • 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.
  • For me, history is of use... by being able to steal the ideas of others and leverage them, correct the mental defect that seems to block my ability to learn from others.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Three: A Mathematical Meditation on History — Fun in My Attic — Denigration of History
  • 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 gets thicker as it approaches recent times: more people, more events, and more books written about them. More evidence is preserved, often, one is tempted to say, too much. Decay and destruction have hardly begun their beneficent work.
    • A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914 – 1945 ([1965] 1975), "Revised Bibliography", p. 729
  • 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.
  • To ingenious attempts at explaining by the light of reason things which want the light of history to show their meaning, much of the learned nonsense of the world has indeed been due.


  • The absence from the Dead Sea Scrolls of historical texts proper should not surprise us. Neither in the inter-Testamental period, nor in earlier biblical times, was the recording of history as we understand it a strong point among the Jews.
    • Geza Vermes The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in EnglishChapter 3: The History of the Community, p. 49
  • 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.
  • All our ancient history, as one of our wits remarked, is no more than accepted fiction.
  • L'histoire n'est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.
    • Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.
    • Voltaire, L'Ingénu, Ch. 10 (1767)


The history of the world has been one not of conquest, as supposed; it has been one of ennui. ~ Helen Westley
  • 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.
  • We are apt to suppose that the facts in any branch of meaning must be in some way open to direct inspection, and that the statements of experts in each branch can be tested by their conformity with them ...
    The most striking thing about history is that the facts it purports to describe are past facts; and past facts are no longer accessible to direct inspection. We cannot, in a word, test the accuracy of historical statements by simply seeing whether they correspond to a reality which is independently known. How then can we test them? …
    ... we do so by referring to historical evidence. Although the past is not accessible to direct inspection it has left ample traces of itself in the present, in the shape of documents, buildings, coins, institutions, procedures and so forth.
    • W. H. Walsh, An Introduction to the Philosophy of History (1958) pp. 19–20.
  • 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.
  • History has a way of reducing individuals to flat, two-dimensional portraits. it is the enemy of subjectivity, which is why Stephen Dedalus called it "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". If we think of Kierkegaard, of Nietzsche, of Hölderlin, we see them standing alone, outside of history. They are spotlighted by their intensity, and the background is all darkness. They intersect history, but are not a part of it. There is something anti-history about such men; they are not subject to time, accident and death, but their intensity is a protest against it. I have elsewhere called such men "Outsiders" because they attempt to stand outside history. which defines humanity on terms of limitation, not of possibility.
    • Colin Wilson in Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs, p. 13-14 (1964)
  • Those old credulities, to nature dear,
    Shall they no longer bloom upon the stock
    Of History.


  • It is always a part of the misfortunes of the vanquished that their portraits are painted and their history written by the victors.
  • The greater part of what passes for diplomatic history is little more than the record of what one clerk said to another clerk.
    • G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (1936)


  • 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.
  • Happy the people whose annals are tiresome.


  • 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

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about:
  1. a b Who Said It First? Journalism is the 'first rough draft of history.’” by Jack Shafer, Slate (30 August 2010)
  2. Personal History (1997) by Katharine Graham