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In support of Dr Samaroo

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why History? In recent times history as an academic subject has been given a bad name by students at elementary, secondary and tertiary levels. Students tell you that it is boring and from their perspective it seems utterly purposeless and have little bearing on their careers. What I have discovered is that the problem lies in how history is presented to students.



Only recently, I read in one of the dailies that Dr Brinsley Samaroo, an eminent professor of history at UWI, was lamenting the fact that for the past 25 years history has “virtually been removed as a subject at primary and secondary levels”, that it has been replaced by what is deemed “social studies” and how difficult it has become to get students at UWI to enroll for degrees in history because it is not regarded a major subject as one may regard economics or engineering.


It is a very sad situation. I agree 100 per cent with Samaroo that we must agitate for history to be placed at the centre of the syllabi at primary, secondary and university levels. The question is, why history? It has always been my approach that history is the subject of all the other subjects, the discipline of all the other disciplines.



To comprehend the history of any given country and its inhabitants one must have a working knowledge of the geography of the place, how the climate and environmental conditions impacted on their wellbeing; how the physical infrastructure was built up which is engineering; how they nourished themselves, which is agriculture; the economic activities that evolved as they organised themselves to produce the requirements of living, in other words, sociology and psychology and industrial relations; how they interpreted their lives and how they viewed themselves in relation to rest of the world, which is philosophy, and so on.



In other words, every significant aspect of human endeavour is embraced by history. And precisely because history records human endeavours for posterity. History is the most salient change agent of all the academic subjects. We study history to comprehend what humanity did in the past, how problems were solved, how contradictions and antagonisms were resolved, in order to formulate programmes for social development tomorrow.


Every branch of humanity gains from what is created and accomplished by its other branches in the quest to fashion physical conditions commensurate with the imperatives of the human spirit. It is always only for a while that the human spirit finds itself constrained by the limits of what is objectively possible at any given moment. These stages of comforts as I call them are indeed quite brief in terms of anthropological time.


Only animals function solely by instinct and are forever locked-in to a one-dimensional form of existence, bounded to static modalities, structures and relationships, and differentiate, if at all, only by accidents of natural evolution. Human beings are different precisely because of the power of our reason to forge new instruments and new systems. It is that capacity of human beings to link past, present and future that makes reformation and social revolution a constant necessity of existence.


History provides the agency for constant change. And with that I rest my case. I thank you.


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