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History

  • The only important thing to realise about history is that it all took place in the last five minutes.

  • History, we know, is apt to repeat itself.

    • George Eliot,
    • "Janet's Repentance," Scenes of Clerical Life ()
  • The contemporary historian never writes such a true history as the historian of a later generation.

  • Every historian discloses a new horizon.

    • George Sand,
    • 1871, in Raphaël Ledos de Beaufort, ed., Letters of George Sand, vol. 3 ()
  • The trouble with American History is that you don't remember it, and why should you? Nobody does.

  • The past is our treasure. Its works, whether we know them or not, flourish in our lives with whatever strength they had. From it we draw provision for our journey, the collected wisdom whose harvests are all ours to reap and carry with us, though we may never live again in the fields that grew them.

  • ... every end in history necessarily contains a new beginning ...

  • The good things in history are usually of very short duration, but afterward have a decisive influence on what happens over long periods of time.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • "Thoughts on Politics and Revolution," Crises of the Republic ()
  • ... if we do not know our own history, we are doomed to live it as though it were our private fate.

    • Hannah Arendt,
    • in Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life ()
  • History is not kind to us / we restitch it with living.

    • Audre Lorde,
    • "On My Way Out I Passed Over You and the Verrazano Bridge," Our Dead Behind Us ()
  • For girls and women, storytelling has a double and triple importance. Because the stories of our lives have been marginalized and ignored by history, and often dismissed and treated as 'gossip' within our own cultures and families, female human beings are more likely to be discouraged from telling our stories and from listening to each other with seriousness.

    • Gloria Steinem,
    • introduction, in Bonnie Watkins and Nina Rothchild, eds., In the Company of Women ()
  • The most common characteristic of women's history is to be lost and discovered, lost again and rediscovered, lost once more and re-rediscovered — a process of tragic waste and terrible silences that will continue until women's stories are a full and equal part of the human story.

    • Gloria Steinem,
    • introduction, in Bonnie Watkins and Nina Rothchild, eds., In the Company of Women ()
  • Every generation tailors history to its taste.

  • Every age cuts and pastes history to suit its own purposes; art always has an ax to grind.

  • ... in the old times, women did not get their lives written, though I don't doubt many of them were much better worth writing than the men's.

  • The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.

  • There might ... have arisen a 'woman's rights question' in those old Mosaic days, had not the priests, who feared any loosening of their control over the people, issued a 'Thus saith the Lord,' and so riveted her chains for another three thousand years. 'Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,' settled the problem for the time.

  • ... woman's subordination came to be complete. She was first knocked down, dragged away senseless, and made a slave. She was bought and sold, or traded; she became a thing, a piece of property, a bond slave. Her degraded position among men became a custom, then an institution, then a tradition.

  • But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. ... the quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences on every page ... and hardly any women at all.

  • History is, and has always been trameled by facts. It may ignore some and deny others; but it cannot accommodate itself unreservedly to theories; it cannot be stripped of things evidenced in favor of things surmised.

  • If history in the making be a fluid thing, it swiftly crystallizes.

  • The comfortable thing about the study of history is that it inclines us to think hopefully of our own times.

  • History is not written in the interests of morality.

  • Anyone, however, who has had dealings with dates knows that they are worse than elusive, they are perverse. Events do not happen at the right time, nor in their proper sequence. That sense of harmony with place and season which is so strong in the historian — if he be a readable historian — is lamentably lacking in history, which takes no pains to verify his most convincing statements.

  • History is a game played backwards only.

  • Official history is a matter of believing murderers on their own word.

    • Simone Weil,
    • in Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence ()
  • The truth of history crowds out the truth of fiction — as if one were obliged to choose between them ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Unextinguished: The Case for Victor Serge," At the Same Time ()
  • History is made by masses of people. One man, or ten men, don't start the earthquakes and don't stop them either. Only hero worshipers and ignorant historians think they do.

  • It is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between history and the smell of skunk.

  • History sometimes acts as madly as heredity, and her most unpredictable performances are often her most glorious.

  • It is a great pity that every human being does not, at an early stage of his life, have to write a historical work. He would then realize that the human race is in quite a jam about truth.

  • Because history is only an aggregate of personal hostilities, personal prejudices, personal blindness and irrationality, there are times when we have to live against it.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • "The New Woman," in Ramparts Magazine ()
  • History must always be taken with a grain of salt. It is, after all, not a science but an art ...

  • History is not a book, arbitrarily divided into chapters, or a drama chopped into separate acts; it has flowed forward. Rome is a continuity, called 'eternal.' What has accumulated in this place acts on everyone, day and night, like an extra climate.

  • Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.

    • Gertrude Stein,
    • "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso," Portraits and Prayers ()
  • ... all History is current; all injustice continues on some level, somewhere in the world.

    • Alice Walker,
    • 1978, in Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds., All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave ()
  • History is an illogical record. It hinges on nothing. It is a story that changes and has accidents and recovers with scars.

  • There was not one cause for our internment, but many — a deep-seated racial prejudice working on top of fear, distrust, and greed. So how is one to say exactly where history begins or ends? It is all slow oscillations, curves, and waves which take so long to reveal themselves ... like watching a tree grow.

  • History is not truth versus falsehoods, but a mixture of both, a mélange of tendencies, reactions, dreams, errors, and power plays. What's important is what we make of it; its moral use. By writing history, we can widen readers' thinking and deepen their sympathies in every direction. Perhaps history should show us not how to control the world, but how to enlarge, deepen, and discipline ourselves.

  • ... history's like a story in a way: it depends on who's telling it.

  • We carry history in our bones. Our parents, our genetics, our cultures all shape what we become. Everything we decide to do is informed by what was done before us.

  • Americans ignore history, for to them everything has always seemed new under the sun. The national myth is that of creativity and progress, of a steady climbing upward into power and prosperity, both for the individual and for the country as a whole. Americans see history as a straight line and themselves standing at the cutting edge of it as representatives for all mankind. They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems, like brides.

  • History repeats herself.

  • ... history, like nature, has its own economy, its own balancing of forces in the final accounting. Nothing can be lost, except to awareness.

  • To rush in upon an event before its significance has had time to separate from the surrounding circumstances may be enterprising, but is it useful? ... The recent prevalence of these hot histories on publishers' lists raises the question: Should — or perhaps can — history be written while it is still smoking?

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • ... the unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • There is no such thing as a neutral or purely objective historian. Without an opinion a historian woud be simply a ticking clock, and unreadable besides.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • The poets have familiarized more people with history than have the historians ...

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement. His method is narrative. ... His subject is the story of man's past. His function is to make it known.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • Completeness is rare in history ...

  • In individuals as in nations, contentment is silent, which tends to unbalance the historical record.

  • In becoming archaeologists of the world of our mothers, we are trying to retrieve the female past and to invent a future.

  • What is not recorded is not remembered.

    • Benazir Bhutto,
    • quoting a friend although this is attributed to Bhutto, in Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of the East ()
  • History, despite its wrenching pain, / Cannot be unlived, and if faced / With courage, need not be lived again.

    • Maya Angelou,
    • "On the Pulse of Morning," inauguration poem ()
  • We can only know where we're going if we know where we've been.

  • Conventional history completely ignores half the human race.

  • History is an agreed-upon fiction.

  • ... that pious fiction we call history ...

  • I have noticed that as soon as you have soldiers the story is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history.

  • History is a stern judge.

  • We decipherers cannot afford to be as picky as the linguist, who can always run back to a native speaker for a few more forms.

  • Unlike modern military codes, ancient texts are almost never purposely misleading, purposely scrambled. ... indeed, literacy was so uncommon until classical times that the very writing of a message sufficed to keep it from almost everybody.

  • Women's history is the primary tool for women's emancipation.

  • ... history ... a sort of immortality turned upside down. Her life stretched backwards through ten centuries.

  • The truth has never been told about women in history: that everywhere man has gone woman has gone too, and what he has done she has done also. Women are ignorant of their own past and ignorant of their own importance in that past.

  • It's really hard for me to use the term 'history' in the singular, because it suggests a reductivist view of how moments and events congeal and reflect the passage of time. I'd rather stick to the pluralness of 'histories' in order to suggest the simultaneity, the parallel forces at work, which produce lived experience.

  • History is a great cemetery: men, deeds, ideas are always dying as soon as they are born.

  • ... it is not the inferiority of women that has caused their historical insignificance; it is rather their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority.

  • The study of history, it seems to me, leads to the conviction that all important events tend toward the same end — the civilization of mankind.

  • ... the national belief that there was a golden age of the family, a time when women and men contentedly played out their roles as given, when female chastity resolved the sexual conflicts between women and men, expresses not a reality about the past, but a longing for a world that exists in imagination alone.

  • History is an imaginary point of view.

  • There is also, in any history, the buried, the wasted, and the lost.

  • I learned a history not then written in books but one passed from generation to generation on the steps of moonlit porches and beside dying fires in one-room houses, a history of great-grandparents and of slavery and of the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved.

  • ... in recent years anthropologists and social historians have shown that matriarchy is an intellectual construct rather than a historical reality.

    • Sarah B. Pomeroy,
    • introduction to the 1995 edition, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity ()
  • We forget history so fast in this country. Like water on a hot sidewalk, it evaporates before it's recorded.

    • Dianne Dixon,
    • in Mollie Gregory, Women Who Run the Show ()
  • History is written by the winners.

    • Donna Read,
    • in Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Birth ()
  • Very often history is a means of denying the past.

  • History as a discipline can be characterized as having a collective forgetfulness about women.

  • Being upper class is more than a matter of money, though money counts. ... Upper class means a certainty of belonging, an assumption of one's importance in the world. ... the U.S. aristocracy is institutionalized in U.S. history and in the mythology that transcends it. Take away black studies, women's studies, ethnic studies, Jewish studies, labor history, Chicano studies, Native American studies: what is left is what has passed for 'history' with no qualifying adjective, the story of those whose belonging was never disputed.

    • Susanna J. Sturgis,
    • "Class/Act," in Christian McEwen and Sue O'Sullivan, eds., Out the Other Side ()
  • The selective winnowing of time leaves only a few recognizable individuals behind for the historian to light on. Thus the historian who finds the human being more interesting than what the human being has done must inevitably endow the comparatively few individuals he can identify with too great an importance in relation to their time. Even so, I prefer this overestimate to the opposite method which treats developments as though they were the massive anonymous waves of an unhuman sea or pulverizes the fallible surviving records of human life into the grey dust of statistics.

  • My own varying estimates of the facts themselves, as the years passed, showed me too clearly how much of history must always rest in the eye of the beholder; our deductions are so often different it is impossible they should always be right.

  • All normal human beings are interested in their past. Only when the interest becomes an obsession, overshadowing present and future conduct, is it a danger. In much the same way healthy nations are interested in their history, but a morbid preoccupation with past glories is a sign that something is wrong with the constitution of the State.

  • History, in spite of the occasional protest of historians, will always be used in a general way as a collection of political and moral precedents.

  • A nation does not create the historians it deserves; the historians are far more likely to create the nation.

  • ... historical research of the truly scholastic kind is not connected with human beings at all. It is a pure study, like higher mathematics.

  • ... somewhere about the eighteenth century, history tacitly replaced religion as the school of public morals.

  • Written history is, in fact, nothing of the kind; it is the fragmentary record of the often inexplicable actions of innumerable bewildered human beings, set down and interpreted according to their own limitations by other human beings, equally bewildered. The tribunal of history judges about as fairly as an average bench of magistrates; which is exactly what it is.


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  • Within the limits of the modern nation, history tends to repeat itself by a process of almost deliberate imitation. We know what to expect of ourselves and, by expecting, do it.

  • Well-behaved women rarely make history.

    • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,
    • "Virtuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735," in American Quarterly ()
  • History is, in its essence, exciting; to present it as dull is, to my mind, stark and unforgivable misrepresentation.

  • ... history moves in contradictory waves, not in straight lines ...

    • Lois Beck,
    • in Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, Women in the Muslim World ()
  • History, the winnowing wind, never halts. We see the chaff rise, forget the waiting grain, seed of the future, fallen to the threshing floor. We never learn, but live on, slit-narrow, as if our living were a pencil line traced upon paper, behaving as trapped denizens of a flat world hemmed in by the bigoted horizon of our own making. Yet the meaning of living is a pushing back, a pulling down of the great walls and domes of fear and ignorance, is relinquishing the nest for the sky, ignorance for understanding. The look back is also a look forward.

  • Strange are the ways of history, where no single thing abides, but all things flow into each other, fragment to fragment clinging ...

  • ... by operating on the principle of human and material obsolescence, America eats her history alive.

  • Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate ...

    • Emma Lazarus,
    • "1492" (1882), in H.E. Jacob, The World of Emma Lazarus ()
  • This is a work of history in fictional form — that is, in personal perspective, which is the only kind of history that exists.

  • It's rare that we actively and consciously 'forget'; most of the time we have simply forgotten, with no consciousness of having forgotten. In individuals, the phenomenon is called 'denial'; in entire cultures and nations, it's usually called 'history.'

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • "The Enigmatic Art of Self-Criticism," The Faith of a Writer ()
  • If history is really relevant in today's world, the proposition doesn't command much respect. Perhaps the past is a different country, but if so no one much wants to travel there.

  • If every nation gets the government it deserves, every generation writes the history which corresponds with its view of the world.

  • History ... with its long, leisurely, gentlemanly labors, the books arriving by post, the cards to be kept and filed, the sections to be copied, the documents to be checked, is the ideal pursuit for the New England mind.

  • Fiction is of great value to any people as a preserver of manners and customs — religious, political and social. It is a record of growth and development from generation to generation. No one will do this for us; we must ourselves develop the men and women who will faithfully portray the inmost thoughts and feelings of the Negro with all the fire and romance which lie dormant in our history ...

  • ... my heart turns to and fro, / In thinking what will the people say, / They who shall see my monument in after years, / And shall speak of what I have done.

    • Queen Hatshepsut,
    • "Speech of the Queen" (c. 1450 BCE), in Margaret Busby, ed., Daughters of Africa ()
  • Human history is work history. The heroes of the people are work heroes.

  • In the United States those bits of our history that remain are paved over, sanitized, packaged for easy consumption. At those sites not already lost to commercial development, we walk between velvet ropes, herded by guides, warned not to touch. Our icons are preserved under glass, their magic demystified in glossy brochures.

  • In no human society except America during the 1950s do women stay home and not do anything.

  • History ... isn't simply what has happened. It's a judgment on what has happened.

  • We are half the world's population — with a very limited recorded past. Our significance to the human story has been undersung, undervalued, underappreciated.

    • Gene Trolander,
    • in Imogen Davenport Trolander and Phyllis Lawson Jackson, eds., Celebrating Women ()
  • History unravels; circumstances, following their natural inclination, prefer to remain ravelled.

  • All history, of course, is the history of wars ...

  • ... history looks queer when you're standing close to it, watching where it is coming from and how it is being made.

  • Most American heroes of the Revolutionary period are by now two men, the actual man and the romantic image. Some are even three men — the actual man, the image, and the debunked remains.

  • ... qualities absolutely necessary for a historian: (1) Imagination. (2) Prejudice. (3) The power of writing your own biography at the same time.

    • Mary E. Coleridge,
    • 1893, in Theresa Whistler, ed., The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge ()
  • History has ever been a record of errors, of party misrepresentations, and of mistaken views, passed through the colander of the historian's fancy ...

  • For a while I thought history was something that bitter old men wrote. But then I realized history made Jack what he was. ... For Jack, history was full of heroes.

  • Not only is history written by the winners, it is also made by them.

  • ... the dogma of woman's complete historical subjection to man must be rated as one of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind.

  • Despite the modern dogma to the effect that women were a subject sex until the nineteenth century 'emancipated' them from history, women in history had demonstrated strong wills and purposes, had made assertions, and had directed or influenced all human destiny, including their own, since human life began.

    • Mary Ritter Beard,
    • "Feminism as a Social Phenomenon," in Woman's Press Magazine ()
  • The volumes which record the history of the human race are filled with the deeds and the words of great men ... [but] The Twentieth Century Woman ... questions the completeness of the story.

    • Mary Ritter Beard,
    • "The Twentieth-Century Woman Looking Around and Backward," Young Oxford ()
  • The forgetting of the history of marginalized groups is both a cause and effect of their marginalization.

  • The history of one is the history of all.

    • Grace King,
    • "La Grande Demoiselle," Balcony Stories ()
  • History is a better guide than good intentions.

  • Best of everything there was / and everything there is to come / is often undocumented.

    • Patti Smith,
    • in Susan Shapiro, "Patti Smith: Somewhere, Over the Rimbaud," Crawdaddy ()
  • To live without history is to live like an infant, constantly amazed and challenged by a strange and unnamed world.

  • It is the winners who write history — their way.

  • When I read about some important moment or era in history, I always take it for granted that the people it happened to were aware of what was going on. In my mind's eye, I see the agricultural workers of England during the Industrial Revolution feeling the pinch and saying to each other, 'Eh, lad,' or whatever agricultural workers would say in those days, 'what dost tha expect? It's this Industrial Revolution at the bottom of it ... '

  • History is a progressive simplication and selection.

  • Although it is tempting to imagine an ancient era innocent of biochemical weaponry, in fact this Pandora's box of horrors was opened thousands of years ago. The history of making war with biological weapons begins in mythology, in ancient oral traditions that preserved records of actual events and ideas of the era before the invention of written histories.

  • ... war with poison and chemicals was not so rare in the ancient world ... An astounding panoply of toxic substances, venomous creatures, poison plants, animals and insects, deleterious environments, virulent pathogens, infectious agents, noxious gases, and combustible chemicals were marshalled to defeat foes — and panoply is an apt term here, because it is the ancient Greek word for 'all weapons.'

  • The 'real movement' of history, it turns out, is fueled not by matter but by spirit, by the will to freedom.

  • History is the study of lies, anyway, because no witness ever recalls events with total accuracy, not even eyewitnesses.

  • You couldn't always trust the history books. They told a diluted truth, a truth by committee.

  • The lessons of the past suggest that racism and resentment against people of color will continue to flourish in America as long as the history that is taught transposes the heroes and the villains. That is the unspoken truth at the heart of the nation's racial divide.

  • That's the history of the world. His story is told, hers isn't.

  • It sometimes seems as though history has been altered by a single event, but it's almost always untrue. The event is produced by the historical process, rather than the other way around.

  • ... history isn't algebra. It's not an exact science.

  • The story and study of the past, both recent and distant, will not reveal the future, but it flashes beacon lights along the way and it is a useful nostrum against despair.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "The Historian's Opportunity," Practicing History: Selected Essays ()
  • History is the archives of human experiences and of the thoughts of past generations; history is our collective memory.

  • The desire of men and women to survive their own death has been the single most important force compelling them to preserve and record the past. History is the means whereby we assert the continuity of human life — its creation is one of the earliest humanizing activities of Homo sapiens.

  • All human beings are practicing historians.

  • The only thing one can learn from history is that actions have consequences and that certain actions and certain choices once made are irretrievable.

  • History, a mental construct which extends human life beyond its span, can give meaning to each life and serve as a necessary anchor for us.