History Quotes: The Importance of Not Forgetting Our Past

It is an oft-stated cliche that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A cliche, yes, but a true one. A study of history allows one a certain perspective over the times in which they live. And while it doesn’t provide predictive powers for the future, it does offer some insight into how things might go a little further down the line. 

What’s more, the past is so different from today that it can offer meaningful insights into how arbitrary our own way of life is in the present. The past, as they say, is a different country. For those who cannot see different customs through travel can get a similar education by learning about the past and how differently things were done then. 

In addition to studying history, it is important to learn from our own personal past. Forgiving is important — forgetting is not. Remembering and reflecting upon our own past is crucial for those who wish to make more of themselves. The past provides a wealth of knowledge about ourselves if only we can face it fearlessly. We can see what works, what doesn’t and perhaps most importantly, how far we have come to get to where we are today. 

The following quotes underscore how important the history of the world and the history of our own lives is, as well as how we can best learn from both. 

Quotes About History’s Lessons

“I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” 

Abraham Lincoln

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

Mark Twain

“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”

U.S. Senator William Edgar Borah

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

Cicero

“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future. There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”

Charlie Munger

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Edmund Burke

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Vladimir Lenin

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”

Mahatma Ghandi

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

Aldous Huxley

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Will & Ariel Durant, “Epilogue – Why Rome Fell”Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization, Volume III

“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean. At its cradle (to repeat a thoughtful adage) religion stands, and philosophy accompanies it to the grave. In the beginning of all cultures a strong religious faith conceals and softens the nature of things, and gives men courage to bear pain and hardship patiently; at every step the gods are with them, and will not let them perish, until they do. Even then a firm faith will explain that it was the sins of the people that turned their gods to an avenging wrath; evil does not destroy faith, but strengthens it. If victory comes, if war is forgotten in security and peace, then wealth grows; the life of the body gives way, in the dominant classes, to the life of the senses and the mind; toil and suffering are replaced by pleasure and ease; science weakens faith even while thought and comfort weaken virility and fortitude. At last men begin to doubt the gods; they mourn the tragedy of knowledge, and seek refuge in every passing delight. Achilles is at the beginning, Epicurus at the end. After David comes Job, and after Job, Ecclesiastes.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

“That America is an exceptional nation is unclear only to one who has not been taught its true history. It ceases to be exceptional only when its representative leaders cease to be exceptional. America, it has been said, is a nation of laws, not of men. The more it becomes a nation of men, the less it remains America.”

Ron Brackin

“History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.”

Thomas Jefferson

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Confucius

“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

Arnold Toynbee, Study of History

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.”

Dwight Eisenhower

“In this regard I plead guilty to the classical notion – more or less continuous from Herodotus and Thucydides to the close of the nineteenth century – of the primacy of military history. In theory, of course, all events have equal historical importance – the creation of a women’s school in nineteenth-century America, the introduction of the stirrup, the domestication of the chicken, or the introduction of the necktie. And such social or cultural developments, whether they are dramatic or piecemeal, do on occasion change the lives of millions. Yet in reality, all actions are still not so equal. We perhaps need to recall the more traditional definitions of the craft of history – a formal record of past events that are notable or worthy of remembrance. Whereas I Love Lucy might have transformed the way thousands of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s saw suburban life, women’s roles, or Cubans, it still did not alter the United States in the manner of a Yorktown, Gettysburg, or Tet – in creating, preserving, or almost losing an entire society. It was an event of the past, but not necessarily either notable or worthy of remembrance or commemoration.”

Victor Davis HansonRipples of Battle

“…many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation.”

Niccolò Machiavelli

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

Winston Churchill

“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

Harry S. Truman

Quotes About Remembering Our Past and Not Forgetting History

“A generation which ignores history has no past – and no future.”

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

“A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

Winston Churchill

“If we are to understand anything of the human mind we must approach the people of the past with humility rather than an overconfident superiority.”

Anthony Terence Quincey

“The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory”

Chinese proverb

“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.”

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans

“Apologizing for our past sins may reveal character and for a time lessen anti-Americanism abroad, but if it is done without acknowledging that the sins of America are the sins of mankind, and that our remedies are so often exceptional, then it only earns transitory applause—and a more lasting contempt that we ourselves do not believe in the values we profess.”

Victor Davis Hanson, The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern

“The relationship between you and history is this: When you study history, you think you’re studying a record of events in the past. And that’s not right. What you’re studying is the circumstances that gave rise to you as a being. And unless you understand your history in every way you possibly can, then you’re an incomplete creature. You don’t know enough to move forward.”

Jordan Peterson

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”

George Orwell

“It is useful to remember that history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As a person deprived of memory becomes disorientated and lost, not knowing where they have been or where they are going , so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

“Political freedom includes in it every other blessing. All the pleasures of riches, science, virtue, and even religion itself derive their value from liberty alone. No wonder therefore wise and prudent legislators have in all ages been held in such great veneration; and no wonder too those illustrious souls who have employed their pens and sacrificed their lives in defense of liberty have met with such universal applause. Their reputations, like some majestic river which enlarges and widens as it approaches its parent ocean, shall become greater and greater through every age and outlive the ruins of the world itself.”

Benjamin Rush, to Catharine Macaulay, January 18, 1769

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.”

Sophia Loren