Why study history? An examination of undergraduate students’ notions and perceptions about history

Christopher W. Berg


History was once prized in public education but, over time, has slowly fallen to the fringes of the curriculum. Many institutions have struggled to solicit and maintain student interest in history majors and many students merely take “history” as a general education or liberal arts elective. The reasons explored here for why students should study history are myriad and include acquiring knowledge and critical thinking skills, developing citizenship, and providing “lessons” for the present. The literature on “Why Study History?” almost exclusively focuses on secondary education resulting in a gap in the literature exploring students’ attitudes and beliefs about the subject. This article examines a sample of 26 undergraduate students’ notions and perceptions about history through a survey questionnaire and open-ended questions. The most significant themes were “Lessons of History” and “History has Questionable Value.” The findings are discussed within the conceptual frameworks of McNeill (1985) and Stearns (1998). Recommendations for future research are also explored.


Why study history; purpose of history; citizenship; distance learning; history education; social studies education

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Christopher W. Berg

Historical Encounters is a double blind peer-reviewed, open access, interdisciplinary journal dedicated to the empirical and theoretical study of historical consciousness, historical cultures, and history education.

The journal is published by the HERMES History Education Research Network concentrated at The University of Newcastle, Australia. The journal publishes at least two issues per year (one will typically have a special theme). To ensure timely availability of scholarship, articles and reviews are published as soon as they have been successfully through the peer review and editorial processes, adding cumulatively to the content for the single regular issue each year. No fees are charged for subscription or publication. The journal is indexed in SCOPUSDOAJ, and Google Scholar, and periodically archived in the National Library of Australia's PANDORA Archive. Contributors to the journal retain copyright to their work. Please read the Copyright Notice for full details.

SCImago Journal & Country Rank

Click here to download the Journal Information booklet, with complete Author Guidelines.

Follow us on Twitter: @HEJ_HERMES or #HistoricalEncounters

A/ Professor Robert J. Parkes, PhD
Editor-in-Chief | Historical Encounters
Faculty of Education and Arts
The University of Newcastle
Callaghan NSW 2308 Australia

All correspondence: editorialteam@hermes-history.net

ISSN 2203-7543