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Forum – Does History Matter?

The Humanist Association of Toronto

Every Saturday we meet to discuss a topic decided upon the previous week. These are topics of humanist interest, from a humanist perspective.

Today we discuss, “Does History Matter”. Below is a write up on the topic from HAT member, Tanya Long. Join us, won’t you?

“History is bunk. “ Henry Ford 1921
“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” Friedrich Hegel
“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana 1905

So who is right? Does humanity learn anything from studying the past? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. Yet the demand for change is often driven by a greater understanding of history. In Canada we are demanding that teaching in our schools include our own historical mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people. But with this demand to reform the teaching of history and be more inclusive, are we in danger of throwing out other important historical events? Is learning about the first and second world wars, for example, relevant to us today? Whose history counts? It’s been said that “history is written by the victor.” Is this true?

What can we learn from history? History provides a storehouse of information about how people and societies behave. History helps us see why things happen and how things change. Seeing that people have not changed much over the centuries, we can understand others, and ourselves, better. A study of history can sharpen our moral perspective because it shows us ambiguities, that things are seldom simple, black and white.

And what if we expand the concept of history beyond what is taught in classrooms? If history is irrelevant and only the present matters, should we stop listening to Beethoven, looking at paintings by Rembrandt, reading Jane Austen? The present grows out of the past; history is inescapable. We ignore that fact at our peril.

Meet our diverse group, trade perspectives in a free and open forum and learn from others as they learn from you!

BTW: don’t be concerned if there are not many RSVP’s. Many HAT members attend regularly but don’t sign up on Meetup. Our online meetings have been very popular with 20-30 attendees.

NOTE: The HAT Forum adheres strictly to the City of Toronto Policy on Non-Discrimination (

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