The Value and Mission of History

Source: People’s Daily-People’s Daily

History is the best teacher of mankind. As one of the oldest knowledge in the world, history has its irreplaceable value; As the foundation of all social sciences, in the new era, history has a new mission.

The value of history is first embodied in its function of consciously maintaining human self-memory. Historical records retain memories, and people refine, study and summarize historical information to form cultural cognition. This function of history can be regarded as the continuation of the self-identity of ethnic groups while human beings keep self-memory, inherit culture and constantly reflect on themselves. Therefore, historical knowledge always constitutes the basic content of human cultural accomplishment. In ancient China, the tradition of regarding history as cultural accomplishment is very long: there is a thousand years of history in the chest, and looking at life and the world gives us a sense of historical depth. Therefore, it is also the value of history to cultivate cultural accomplishment and enhance cultural details. The value of history is also reflected in the scientific way of thinking of history, especially in the cultivation of "sense of history". The so-called sense of history is a kind of "synaesthesia" that is comprehensively grasped for a long time and with a large vision; A conscious and thinking habit of putting people, things and things in a specific time and space and historical process to recognize, grasp, examine and locate; A concern and deep understanding of the relevance, continuity and vicissitude of society, people, events and the environment. A person with a real sense of history often has a deep vision. The Chinese nation is a nation full of wisdom, which is inseparable from the fact that we have attached great importance to history and historical writing since ancient times, and have a very long historical tradition and extremely rich historical resources.

On the grand journey of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, it is the historical researchers’ mission of the times to speed up the construction of the discipline system, academic system and discourse system of history with China characteristics. The vast number of historical researchers should consciously carry forward China’s long-standing historical tradition, at the same time, constantly absorb the outstanding historical research achievements in the world, truly base themselves on the specific reality of China’s own development, deeply interpret and explain China’s historical process, and devote themselves to exploring China’s unique historical road and development wisdom, so as to enhance academic autonomy and creativity, and consciously form a historical discipline system, academic system and discourse system with China characteristics, reflecting the spirit of the times and international vision.

At present, history, which undertakes the mission of the new era, faces new opportunities and challenges: First, the development of modern information technology and the application of big data. The development of modern information technology and the arrival of the era of big data provide unprecedented new opportunities for the development of history; At the same time, historical research is less and less dependent on the possession of exclusive materials, and more reflected in data sharing, which puts forward higher requirements for historical researchers’ ability to explain history. The second is the strengthening of the "globalization" vision. Both theory and reality call on historical researchers to consciously pay attention to the future and destiny of mankind from the perspective of the world, and put forward and study problems from the general trend of human development, the general pattern of world changes and the great history of China’s development. In the era of economic globalization, historical research should make greater contributions to the construction of Community of Shared Future for Mankind. For example, the global spread of the COVID-19 epidemic has prompted historical researchers to deeply study the impact of plagues and disasters on human history, and the branches of history such as ecological history, disaster environmental history and medical social history can make great achievements. Third, the demand for publicity of history has increased rapidly. It is a fine tradition of Chinese historiography to learn from the past and educate people by senior officials, and it is also the social foundation for the long-term development and prosperity of ancient historical research. On the new journey, the vast number of historical researchers should actively provide historical wisdom and historical reference for the great practice of the new era, fully embody the publicity of history, enhance the people’s historical humanistic quality, and strengthen their historical self-confidence.

(The author is a professor at the School of History, Renmin University of China)

People’s Daily (10th edition, March 21st, 2022)